For the first time ever there has been a decline in HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men in the UK.
According to Public Health England (PHE), there was an overall decrease in new HIV diagnoses by 18% in 2016.
HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men dropped further, by 21%, with this decline particularly focused in parts of London.
Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at Public Health England, welcomed the news. “It is the first time since the beginning of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s that we have observed a decline in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men,” she said.
In part, the decrease has been linked to the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that prevents HIV negative individuals from becoming infected, as well as faster treatment.
“Today’s figures show we’ve started something – we’re beginning to see the reversal of the HIV epidemic in some communities in the UK,” commented Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK HIV charity.
“HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men, one of the groups most affected, are declining; showing what can be achieved when we utilise all the weapons in our arsenal against HIV transmission. This includes access to condoms, testing, PrEP and diagnosing and treating people as early as possible so they can become uninfectious.”
Green said, however, that this is no time for complacency. The new statistics also show that 42% of people with HIV were still being diagnosed late; with heterosexual men and individuals aged over 50 the most likely to experience late diagnosis.
“We must keep this momentum going so we can see the same progress in other communities and bring the epidemic to an end,” he said.
Green also called on the government to start it’s long awaited PrEP trial in England, where it is only available privately through doctors or online importing. In Scotland PrEP is available on the National Health Service, and in Wales as part of a large scale pilot.
“The England PrEP trial, which will protect 10,000 people in England at risk of HIV, has still not yet started – we have now been promised the start of the trial by the end of October. This timeline cannot be pushed back further,” he said.
In South Africa, PrEP is available for MSM for free in Johannesburg and Cape Town (Health4Men) and Pretoria (OUT’s TEN81 clinic). It can also be accessed through private GPs.