Gilead Science’s Truvada for PrEP — Photo: Tony Webster
According to a report from the UK Government, new HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men are the lowest they have been in 20 years.
The report by Public Health England (PHE) notes that, for the first time ever, the number of new HIV diagnoses in gay and bi men are only outnumbering those found in heterosexual adults by 100 cases.
The report also shows that there were only 1,500 HIV diagnoses in 2020, as opposed to the 1,700 new diagnoses in 2019.
In general, the number of total HIV diagnoses among adults dropped by 10% (going from 4,580 in 2018 to 4,139 in 2019) and there has also been an overall decline of 24% since the peak of 6,312 new diagnoses in 2014.
Typically, men that have sex with other men are the most at-risk group to contract the virus.
PHE attributes the decline in HIV diagnoses to the use of condoms, PrEP, and frequent testing, coupled with immediate access to antiretroviral therapy for those diagnosed with the virus.
“In the UK, we have made great progress towards eliminating HIV transmission by 2030. Frequent HIV testing, the offer of PrEP among those most at risk of HIV, together with prompt treatment among those diagnosed, remain key to ending HIV transmission by 2030,” Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV Surveillance at PHE, said in a statement.
“Further progress can only be achieved if we also address the inequalities in reducing HIV transmission that exist around sexuality, ethnicity and geography.”
PrEP, also known by its brand name Truvada, uses antiretrovirals to prevent transmission of the virus in HIV-negative individuals.
It was this year made available through the National Health Service in England for those most at risk of infection, following limited trials.
However, this development was delayed from April, and according to HIV charity Terence Higgins Trust, the six month wait has been “frustrating” in light of the PHE report and the groundbreaking progress made in recent years.
Ian Green, THT’s chief executive, released a statement saying, “Terrence Higgins Trust is still hearing story after story of people being turned away from clinics with no PrEP and no way of accessing this effective HIV prevention drug.”
Health boards in Scotland and Wales have already made PrEP available to those most at risk through their respective health services. In both Scotland and Wales, PrEP is free at the point of access, after the Scottish and Welsh governments abolished prescription drug charges.
For Andrew Bates, who is HIV-positive, the Public Health England report is something to celebrate.
The 26-year-old told Radio 1’s Newsbeat that he was diagnosed with HIV when he was 21, and at the time, “it wasn’t on my radar, and it sounds kind of ridiculous now, but I didn’t think I was at risk. It was never spoken about so it was a scary time for me.”
He said that increased awareness of the disease, available treatments, and preventative methods had helped make new HIV diagnoses less difficult than when he was diagnosed.
“I would hope that because of speaking about it more than we were then — even though it’s just five years ago — that people who do go through that process now, who have received a diagnosis, it’s not as worrying,” he said.
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