Figures released today show that the number of gay and bisexual men being diagnosed with HIV in the UK has fallen slightly in the last year.
Data published by the Health Protection Agency shows that in 2008, an estimated 2,760 men who have sex with men were newly diagnosed with HIV. This is six per cent fewer than in 2007.
HIV charities have been quick to emphasise that this does not mean that not enough gay men are coming forward for tests. Figures show that the numbers coming forward for testing rose in 2008. However, they urged gay and bisexual men to continue getting tested regularly.
In 2007, the number of gay and bisexual men being diagnosed with the virus rose to an all-time high of 3,160. In 2008, the figure dropped to 2,760.
It is thought that 24,000 gay and bisexual men are living with HIV in this country, while a further 9,000 are thought to be undiagnosed.
In response to the new statistics, Nick Partridge, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), said: “The level of undiagnosed HIV in the country is completely unacceptable. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV can live to old age. If left undiagnosed, they will die earlier, be significantly more ill and more likely to infect others.
“HIV testing is easy, quick and saves lives. Every sexually active gay man should get tested. There should be more testing offered in more settings and we need the political will to make this happen.”
THT is calling on the government to introduce a national targeted screening programme to halve undiagnosed HIV in the UK by 2014.
Deborah Jack, chief executive of National AIDS Trust, commented: “It is good news that new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men were down last year but we have to remember this is compared to an all time high in 2007.
“In 1998 just over 1,400 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV but last year almost double that number were diagnosed. A lot of new infections are still occurring – which means we must make greater efforts in HIV prevention.
“Now we have more concrete evidence that failure to invest in prevention initiatives is a false economy. Preventing just one infection can save over a quarter of a million pounds. The government needs to prioritise education about HIV and the importance of condom use, especially among young gay and bisexual men.”