30 years to the day since the death of Terry Higgins, the first person in the UK to be publicly identified as dying with AIDS, HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has set out a call to action by which the UK’s gay community can lead the way reducing new HIV infections.
Gay and bisexual men remain the group most affected by HIV in the UK. In 2010, there were 3,000 new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men, the highest annual number since the epidemic began.
New figures suggest that without the existing emphasis on safer sex across the gay community, that figure would have been higher.
According to researchers at University College London, continued condom use since 2000 has prevented an extra 80,000 gay and bisexual men from contracting HIV.
Terrence Higgins Trust is calling on gay men to build on this success by making a concerted effort to halt the spread of HIV within their community. The charity estimates infection rates could be slashed within a decade if gay and bisexual men:
- Attend a full sexual health check up at least once every six months, and more frequently if they have a high number of partners or a symptomatic STI. In the UK, one in four gay men with HIV remains undiagnosed, causing most new infections. Men who are undiagnosed are far more likely to transmit the virus than those who know they have HIV. Only 15 – 25 per cent of gay men take an HIV test in any particular year. If that figure were to rise to 65 per cent, it would prevent two out of three new diagnoses among this group the following year.
- Use condoms with every new partner, and continue using them until they’ve both been tested for HIV and other STIs. From the start of the epidemic, the gay scene has led the way in promoting safer sex. Since 2000, continued condom use in this country has prevented an extra 80,000 men contracting HIV. Sustained condom use remains the best way men can protect themselves and their partners from HIV.
- Ensure, if they have HIV, they are on timely treatment. Modern antiretroviral drugs are so effective that someone on treatment is far less infectious than someone who isn’t. Getting someone onto medication in good time will not just benefit their own health; it also vastly lowers the risk of the virus being passed on. Men can visit www.myHIV.org.uk for detailed information and advice on living well with HIV.
- Make a concerted effort to reduce stigma around HIV. The high levels of stigma around HIV discourage people from coming forward for testing or from telling a new partner about their status. Fostering greater public understanding of life with HIV will help to break down those barriers, which will in turn lower transmission rates.
Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Since Terry’s death 30 years ago, gay men have been at the forefront of the nation’s fight against HIV. Ours was the first community to experience the devastating effects of AIDS, and equally the first to fight back. Thanks to Terry, his friends, and thousands like them, we are in a far stronger position today than we might otherwise have been.
“After the scientific advances of the last three decades, it is now entirely within our reach to halt the spread of HIV. The gay community can lead the way on this, but it will require renewed commitment from all of us –gay businesses, venue owners, community groups and every one of us – to make it work. Whether your own life has been touched by the epidemic in the last 30 years or not, halting the spread now can only help future generations put an end to HIV for good.”
Terrence Higgins Trust’s strategy document, Tackling the spread of HIV in the UK, can be viewed here.