UK meets global HIV targets as diagnoses keep falling

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UK meets global HIV targets as diagnoses keep falling

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HIV diagnoses are continuing to fall in the UK as it meets UN targets on diagnosis, treatment and transmission for the first time, according to a report from Public Health England.

It said there was no doubt prevention efforts to end the HIV epidemic were working.

New HIV diagnoses in the UK fell by 17% from 2016 to 2017, with spread among gay and bisexual men declining.

HIV charities said real progress was being made in the fight against HIV.

Latest figures on HIV infections from PHE show that last year both England and the UK overall met three important targets of 90% set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids).

  • 92% of people living with HIV infection in the UK being diagnosed
  • 98% of people diagnosed receiving treatment
  • 97% of people receiving treatment, leaving them unable to pass on the infection

Overall, 87% of people living with HIV in the UK were estimated to have an undetectable viral load and therefore be unable to infect others.

Countries around the world were given a deadline of 2020 but the UK met the targets in 2017.

The UK's success was down to more HIV testing, increased condom use and people starting their treatment sooner, PHE said.

The availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep), a daily pill that disables HIV before it gets a stranglehold in the body, could also be a factor.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prep is a daily pill that disables HIV before it takes hold in the body

The report says there has been a steady downward trend in new HIV diagnoses for several years and in HIV transmission among the group most affected by the virus – men who have sex with men.

In 2017, there were 4,363 new cases of HIV in the UK – 3,236 in men – and nearly half were diagnosed at a late stage.

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Prof Noel Gill, head of sexually transmitted infections and HIV at Public Health England, said prevention efforts were working.

But he said it was vital that people had an HIV test if they thought they were at risk because early diagnosis was key to stopping transmission.

"Our efforts must continue apace in order to eliminate HIV.

"Treatment for HIV is freely available and highly effective, enabling people to live a long, healthy life.

"There are now a variety of ways people can protect themselves from being infected with or passing on HIV, including use of condoms, Prep, regular HIV testing, and prompt initiation of antiretroviral treatment."

About 102,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV in the UK but some 8,000 (8%) are still thought to be unaware of their infection.

'Pivotal moment'

Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was "fantastic news" that the UK had reached the UN's targets.

But he said a new and ambitious target was now needed.

"This is far from the end and it's time for us to be even more ambitious as we work towards ending new HIV transmissions entirely in the UK.

"That's because we're at a pivotal moment and must not jeopardise progress made by being complacent."

Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust said the UK was now a global leader on HIV.

"This is an extraordinary moment in the fight against HIV – in which everything seems possible.

"With the right political will, investment and public support, we can eliminate HIV as a public health threat and make real progress towards the UN target to end HIV-related stigma."

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