A new report from Public Health England shows HIV infection rates in the UK have taken a steep decline since 2012.
According to the figures released today, new infections among gay and bisexual men have dropped from 2,800 in 2012 to 800 in 2018, which represents a 71% decrease.
Health authorities attribute the decrease to a number of factors.
For one thing, encouraging the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has become a focus for health officials. Studies show the once-a-day pill is almost 99% effective in preventing HIV infection.
PrEP is currently available for high-risk patients in Wales and Scotland, but the BBC reports “many in England have had to wait until they can gain access to an impact trial that first began in September 2017.” That trial is scheduled to end later this year.
Also aiding in reducing new infections is a public campaign encouraging people to get tested regularly for HIV.
And when new infections are discovered, those patients are immediately placed on HIV medications to bring their viral load down to undetectable levels, which means the virus can’t be passed on to others.
Of the estimated 103,800 people believed to be living with HIV in the UK in 2018, 93% of those had been diagnosed and 97% of those diagnosed were receiving treatment.
Among the HIV patients on medications, 97% were found to have undetectable viral loads.
Contrast that with the United States where the Centers for Disease Control estimate 83% of folks living with HIV have been diagnosed and just 63% have been deemed to be virally suppressed.
However, Debbie Laycock, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, noted the new report isn’t all good.
Laycock told BBC News that 43% of new diagnoses are being discovered at a late stage, particularly with men who identify as straight and those over 50 in age. Late-stage infections result in a much higher risk of death compared with early detection.
And, there have been slight increases in new HIV infections among black people and south Asian men.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC he feels the UK is on track to reach its goal of ending HIV transmission by the year 2030.
“HIV has brought untold hurt and suffering to so many, so it is encouraging to see transmissions continue to fall across the UK,” said Hancock.