UK achieves HIV prevention targets as new infections plummet

HIV prevention: London's St Paul's Cathederal lights up red on World AIDS Day

The UK has become one of the first countries to meet UNAIDS targets for HIV prevention, as efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS prove dramatically effective.

Public Health England (PHE) recorded a drastic fall in new diagnoses of HIV in the UK, with just 4,363 new cases diagnosed in 2017.

This represents a 17 percent year-on-year decrease.

The reduction has been attributed to the success in HIV prevention efforts among men with have sex with men, with PHE citing increased condom use, frequent HIV testing, and the use of HIV-prevention drugs (PrEP).

The PHE report, released on November 29, also gives an update on the UK’s progress towards global ’90-90-90′ targets for tackling HIV by 2020.

These require 90 percent of people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90 percent of people diagnosed to receive treatment, and 90 percent of people in treatment to have undetectable viral loads, which means they cannot pass on HIV.

The PHE data reveal that the UK is on track to exceed the targets, with 92 percent diagnosed, 98 of those diagnosed on treatment, and 97 percent of those on treatment with virally suppressed loads.

The fountains at Trafalgar Square turn red on World AIDS Day, to raise awareness of HIV prevention

The fountains at Trafalgar Square turn red on World AIDS Day (Clive Brunskill/Getty for RED)

However, the report also warns that opportunities to diagnose HIV early are being missed, due to the lack of routine testing in healthcare services.

In 2017, 43% (1,879) of new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage of HIV infection.

“There can be no doubt prevention efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the UK are working.”

 — Public Health England

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Many of us will remember a time when an HIV positive result was effectively a death sentence.

“Today’s report is a poignant and powerful reminder of how far we’ve come. Now in the UK, almost everyone with HIV is not only diagnosed and in treatment but living long, healthy lives—and we’re one of just a handful of countries to meet these ambitious UN targets.

“This didn’t seem possible just a few decades ago but thanks to the efforts of public health bodies, charities and the NHS to encourage early testing and pioneer high quality treatment, we are pushing ahead in the fight against HIV.”

Professor Noel Gill, Head of STIs & HIV at Public Health England, said: “There can be no doubt prevention efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the UK are working.

“Our efforts must continue apace in order to eliminate HIV. With an estimated 8,000 people still unaware of their infection it is vital that people seek out an HIV test if they consider themselves at risk, or accept the offer of an HIV test by a healthcare professional, as early diagnosis is key to stopping transmission.

“Treatment for HIV is freely available and highly effective, enabling people to live a long, healthy life. There are now a variety of ways people can protect themselves from being infected with or passing on HIV, including use of condoms; PrEP; regular HIV testing; and prompt initiation of antiretroviral treatment.”

HIV prevention efforts could ‘end’ transmissions by 2030

In a statement to PinkNews, Ian Green of Terrence Higgins Trust said: “It’s fantastic news that the UK has reached the United Nations’ 90-90-90 target. We’re making real progress in the fight against HIV and that should be celebrated. This shows what can be achieved when people affected by HIV, activists, charities, the research community, the NHS and local councils work together.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, a HIV prevention method

Pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs are a HIV prevention drug method (Getty)

“But this is far from the end and it’s time for us to be even more ambitious as we work towards ending new HIV transmissions entirely in the UK. That’s because we’re at a pivotal moment and must not jeopardise progress made by being complacent.”

He added: “Following today’s news, we urgently want to see UK governments commit to ending new HIV transmissions by 2030 at the latest and set out clear steps to achieve that. This will only be achieved by everyone working together towards a shared vision.

“In the past the UK has led the way when it comes to HIV and that must continue now. HIV can’t be allowed to fall any further down the priority list and must once again become a key focus with clear strategies for ending HIV transmissions put in place and investment in HIV and sexual health services.”