-Number of new HIV cases drops by 71% thanks to new drug
Public Health England (PHE) say transmission has dropped by nearly three quarters in four years, while the number of people who are unaware they have the virus is also falling.
And those who are living with the virus say Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) – available in clinical trials to those who could be at risk – has had a major impact on reducing the number of cases.
Between 2012 and 2018, there was a 71.4% drop in transmission among men who have sex with men, from an estimated 2,300 to 800 in 2018, according to the PHE report.
And the number of people living undiagnosed with the virus has also halved in that period, from an estimated 7,000 to 3,600.
While welcoming the figures, campaigners have cautioned that more needs to be done.
Activist Nathaniel Hall, who is touring the country with a theatre show about life with HIV, told Metro.co.uk: ‘(The figures are) really encouraging and show PrEP is having the desired impact and that it is the most effective method.
‘This report is pretty clear that it is PrEP that is having this impact.’
Mr Hall, 33, continued: ‘Though the figures are welcome, the most significant reduction we have seen is in men who have sex with men. We are not seeing much uptake in heterosexual communities.
‘There is work still to be done.
‘HIV doesn’t discriminate – if you are sexually active then you are at risk.’
PHE’s report says the number of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexuals has almost halved over the past decade, from 3,400 in 2009 to 1,940 in 2018.
But Father-of-two Jim Allen, who also lives with the virus, warned against complacency.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘The figures are very promising, although, without a freely available PrEP program in England I think it will be difficult to reach their 2030 targets.’
Jim, 37, added: ‘Currently PrEP only has limited availability in England through the NHS trials and although highly successful in so-called high risk groups, without expanding this to be available freely for anyone irrespective of perceived risk level, HIV transmissions will continue to linger on well past the 2030 goals.
‘This week we saw the horrific story of 25 years old Ross Scott dying of AIDS in part because of testing late, so this is not the time to become complacent in our HIV pandemic response.’
The new figures have been widely welcomed by the UK health sector, as they revealed that almost half of those diagnosed in 2018 after acquiring HIV heterosexually were born in a country with high case numbers.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I feel very strongly that we must end HIV transmission.
‘HIV has brought untold hurt and suffering to so many so it is encouraging to see transmissions continue to fall across the UK.
‘We are well on our way towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions by 2030 and we should be rightly proud of the incredible progress we have already made.’
PHE said methods aimed at tackling HIV spread – including condoms, testing in a wide range of settings, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible if positive, as well as the availability of PrEP – were responsible for the drop.
PrEP, which is available for those who are negative and reduces transmission rates to virtually zero, is different to the drug PEP, which is used for people who think they have been exposed, rather than before.
Meanwhile, those who are positive, like Nathaniel, say they can be ‘100%’ confident of not passing the virus on with using medication branded Treatment as Prevention (TasP).
Dr Noel Gill, head of sexually transmitted infections and HIV at PHE, said: ‘We are well on our way to reaching the goal of eliminating HIV transmission by 2030, with the rapid fall in HIV transmission continuing in 2018 and nearly all of those diagnosed receiving treatment that prevents onward transmission.
‘Testing is a key part of the UK’s success. If you have HIV you can benefit from life-saving treatments that also prevent further transmission of the virus.
‘Certain groups of people are at higher HIV risk and are advised to have regular tests, including men and women who have had unprotected sex with new or casual partners from countries where HIV is common, who should test every year, and men who have sex with men.’