As our community comes together to mark World AIDS Day, there’s some good news from the UK on HIV prevention.
Public Health England have released their annual update on the UK’s progress towards ending the HIV epidemic. This report reflects the analysis of the data that has been collected to the end of 2017, and it demonstrates that the combination prevention strategies being implemented across the UK are really working.
“This is really good news…” confirms Matthew Hodson – Executive Director of UK health information organisation National AIDS Manual, or NAM. “We’ve not only hit the UNAIDS targets for tackling HIV – we’ve smashed them! It’s incredible to think that 87 percent of people who have HIV can’t pass it on to sexual partners.”
The report from Public Health England confirms that based on the UK data available from 2017:
- 92% of people living with HIV have been diagnosed
- 98% of people diagnosed are receiving treatment
- 97% of people receiving treatment are virally suppressed
- 87% of people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load and are therefore unable to pass on the infection
Decline in HIV incidence and diagnoses in gay and bisexual men
Public Health England confirms that we’re continuing to see a decline in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men in the UK.
The data demonstrates that new infections peaked in 2012 with 2,700 new infections of gay/bisexual men and has now more than halved with 1,200 new infections of gay/bisexual men recorded in 2017.
“It was in 2013 where we really turned the corner…” confirms Matthew Hodson of NAM. “That was before PrEP became available, so it was Treatment as Prevention that was having an impact. Once we were able to add PrEP to that mix then we’ve really seen momentum increase. With the pincer of movement of PrEP and U=U we have the power to prevent new infections.”
Combination Prevention Strategies
The analysis from Public Health England confirms that it’s the implementation of combination HIV prevention which is the principal explanation for the fall in new HIV infections in gay and bisexual men since 2012.
Combination HIV prevention seeks to achieve maximum impact through simultaneous implementation of complementary prevention strategies. This includes use of condoms, PrEP, expanded testing to enable early detection of HIV, and availability of treatment if diagnosed.
“This is something that we’ve been advocating at GMFA since around 2001…” confirms Matthew Hodson. GMFA is a UK health charity that has long been at the forefront of HIV advocacy for gay and bisexual men. “We knew that safer-sex wasn’t a one-size-fits all message for gay and bisexual men. Condoms are great, but for many years it was difficult to get support to talk about anything else. It’s fantastic that these results demonstrate that combination prevention is what’s helped us to reduce new infections. But, we need to be more ambitious in making PrEP available.”
A global trend?
“We are seeing similar falls in new infections in some countries…” confirms Matthew Hodson. “However, it seems to be particularly evident when we look at specific cities. Cities such as Sydney, New York, and San Francisco are making real progress in reducing new HIV infections. The roll-out of PrEP in Sydney has been something like six-times what we’ve been able to deliver in the UK and they’ve seen a staggering drop in new infection rates.”
The ambition to capitalise on the gains that have been made with combination prevention is a sentiment echoed by Public Health England in their report: “It is now time to look beyond and identify new priorities that, if achieved, could accelerate the falls in HIV transmission that are well underway.”