This ‘incredibly exciting’ data proves the gay community can win the war against HIV

Nick Duffy June 22, 2017
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HIV diagnoses are rapidly falling in England, and experts are crediting prevention programmes aimed at the gay community.

Data published by Public Health England this week confirmed the steep decline in new diagnoses of HIV, based on data from England’s sexual health clinics.

The data for 2015-16 shows that the number of new HIV infections has fallen to just 1,700 across England, representing a decline of more than a third, from 3,000 a few years ago.

The sharpest fall has been in London.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) has been credited

Experts say that the drop  comes mainly from an increased focused on HIV prevention among men who have sex with men. Rates for heterosexuals did not fall.

Valerie Delpech of Public Health England said: “What we are seeing is the first downturn of the HIV epidemic in gay men.

“There is absolutely no reason why we cannot scale that up to further reduce new infections in gay men – and also in all people who may be at risk of HIV in the UK, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality.”

As well as a focus on HIV prevention in the gay community, the drop has been credited to early trials of HIV-preventing PrEP drugs, which were made available to thousands of gay men during the time period.

The results of the PrEP trial, known as the Proud study, has already demonstrated an 86% decline in HIV diagnoses among the trial group.

PrEP is expected to be made more widely available via a large-scale trial this summer.

Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “After years of high rates of HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men, it is really exciting to see these indications of such a sharp drop in England.

“It is early days but this points towards what can be achieved when we utilise all the weapons in our arsenal against HIV transmission. This includes access to condoms, testing, PrEP and, crucially, diagnosing and treating people as early as possible so they can become uninfectious.

“This is extremely positive news for gay and bisexual men, who continue to be one of the groups most affected by HIV. However, it is no time for complacency and we must redouble our efforts to prevent HIV among other at-risk groups as well.

“If we can build on this remarkable progress with continued investment in HIV testing and prevention, including a long-term NHS funded PrEP programme for all those who are at risk, a world without HIV transmission could be within our grasp.”

Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, told the BBC: “These are incredibly exciting times for HIV. We are on the precipice of an absolute step-change in HIV prevention.”

However, activists warned that cuts to HIV prevention programmes could set back progress.

In the US, the Trump administration has proposed steep cuts to HIV/AIDS programmes.

More: AIDS, blood, Gay, HIV, LGBT

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