A new report published by Public Health England (PHE) today in advance of National HIV Testing Week shows 6% of gay and bisexual men are now living with HIV, rising to 13% in London (one in eight).
It is estimated that over 7,000 gay men have an HIV infection that remains undiagnosed and that an estimated 2,800 men acquired HIV in 2013.
PHE said the figures underline the need to further increase both the numbers and frequency of HIV tests, which is critical to tackling the ongoing high levels of HIV transmission.
National HIV Testing Week is taking place from 22-30 November.
There are now nearly 110,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Around a quarter of these (26,100) are unaware of their infection and at risk of passing on the virus to others through unprotected sex.
Encouragingly, the proportion of people diagnosed with a late stage of HIV infection fell from 57% in 2004 to 42% in 2013.
“We can’t overstate the importance of testing for HIV to ensure an early diagnosis” said Dr Valerie Delpech, head of national HIV surveillance, PHE. “People diagnosed promptly with HIV infection can expect to live long and healthy lives. However, in 2013 people diagnosed with HIV late were ten times more likely to die in the first year of diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly. People who remain unaware of their infection are also at risk of transmitting HIV to others.”
“Knowing one’s HIV status is the key to both effective treatment, and to preventing onward transmission. This is why we are promoting the National HIV Testing Week. The campaign encourages people who are most affected by HIV to take an HIV test. This includes gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and black Africans in particular.”
Professor Noel Gill, Head of PHE’s HIV & STI department added: “Used correctly and consistently, condoms remain an inexpensive and effective way to prevent HIV. We are also now seeing important and exciting data on ways to use antiretroviral medication to prevent HIV. PHE has accelerated its support of the evaluation of these measures as they may help to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic.”
In response, Deborah Gold, chief executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), said: “Whilst we have passed the 100,000 mark for the number of people living with HIV in the UK, there is a dangerous complacency in our society about the challenge of HIV. The high rates of undiagnosed HIV are unacceptable but we are failing across the NHS and in the community consistently to offer HIV tests to those who need them, especially heterosexual men and women. Progress is possible but there is still an immense amount to do to get everyone with HIV diagnosed in good time and meet the UN 90-90-90 target of just 10% undiagnosed.”
Cary James, Head of Health Improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Gay and bisexual men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, yet these figures show the community is testing more regularly and making significant headway at driving down undiagnosed infection. Three years ago, one in four gay men with HIV in this country were undiagnosed. Now that figure is less than one in six. We need to explore every avenue we can to continue to get more gay and bisexual men testing more frequently, from increasing opportunities to test in non-clinical settings to expanding postal HIV testing programmes. National HIV Testing Week provides an opportune platform for this, so we’d encourage men to get behind the campaign and make a commitment to test.”