Big drop in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men

Public Health England credits better testing and uptake of anti-retroviral therapy, as well as the use of the preventative PrEP among gay and bisexual men, while among heterosexual men and women late-stage HIV infection diagnosis remained high.

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Use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, medication contributing to big drop in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men, according to Public Health England

The number of new diagnoses of HIV fell among gay and bisexual men in England last year, with the steepest drop seen in London.

According to the latest published by Public Health England (PHE), across the country there was an 18 per cent drop in the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV from 2015 to 2016.

The number of new diagnoses among gay and bisexual men had been rising steadily since 2007, but there was a 21 per cent drop in the number of cases last year from 3,750 in 2015 to 2,810 last year.

In parts of London the figure fell even more sharply with a 29 per cent decrease from 1,554 in 2015 to 1,096 last year.

Gay, bisexual and other men that have sex with men account for half of all people living with HIV in England and from the group most at risk of acquiring HIV, according to PHE.

The report credited increased testing, improvements in the uptake of anti-retroviral (ART) HIV therapy and the use of preventative drug PrEP as the combined factors contributing to the downward trend.

Previously, new infections in the UK had remained at around 3,000 every year in the five years up to 2015.

The PHE report cited the new figures as ‘the most exciting development in the UK HIV epidemic in 20 years, when effective treatment became readily available.’

However, PHE warned that late-stage HIV infection diagnosis remained high, particularly among heterosexual men and women.

Commenting on the findings Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “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.

“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.

“But this is no time for complacency. We must keep this momentum going so we can see the same progress in other communities and bring the epidemic to an end.

“These new stats still show cause for concern, with late diagnoses worryingly high — putting people’s health at risk and meaning they can unwittingly pass on the virus.’

Citation: The Salvadore DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203668

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