The number of HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men has fallen for the first time since the epidemic

Red ribbons, a symbol of solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS

The Public Health England report shows a decline in new HIV diagnoses among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

Since the epidemic was first detected over 30 years ago, there has bee a 21% decline of cases of the virus from 3,570 in 2015 to 2,810 in 2016.

On top of this, the estimated annual number of new infections acquired in gay and bisexual men has declined year on year, from a peak of around 2,800 in 2012 to 1,700 in 2016.

And for the first time, the overall mortality rate of people with diagnosed HIV aged 15-59 years who were diagnosed promptly was comparable to that of the general population of the same age group.

“The progress we have made in diagnosing, treating and preventing HIV has been astonishing. Twenty-one years ago an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence but now life expectancy for someone promptly diagnosed and on treatment is the same as for someone who remains uninfected,” said Matthew Hodson of NAM Aidsmap.

“HIV treatment is now so effective that those who are treated and have an undetectable viral load will not pass the virus on to their sexual partners,” Hodson continues.

“This knowledge strikes to the heart of much of the stigma that people like me, who are living with the virus, experience. I’m delighted that PHE acknowledge that effective treatment can prevent transmission, even for people who have sex without condoms. It’s vital that people with HIV and our sexual partners know that undetectable means untransmittable,” added Hodson.

However, there are still areas of progress to be made. The number and proportion of diagnoses made at a late stage of HIV infection remain high, particularly among heterosexual men and women.

People diagnosed late remain at high risk of death in the first year of diagnosis and of serious ill-health in succeeding years.

Currently, Scotland is currently the only country in the UK that offers a full PrEP provision through their NHS.

Known as the ‘morning after pill for HIV’, the drug should be taken before and after sex to prevent HIV.

These new reports from Public Health England show that we are now on the cusp of eliminating onward transmission of HIV and HIV-related deaths in the UK, which is a truly remarkable prospect,” said Dr Elizabeth Carlin, President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said.

“As a next step, we call upon the Government to ensure that appropriate levels of funding are in place to support the availability of increased testing and rapid access to treatment, including the national roll-out of PrEP for all those at risk,” Carlin added.