HIV rates have fallen by a staggering 73 per cent in the UK – thanks to pioneering drugs and a rise in testing.
New figures published by Public Health England (PHE) shows HIV transmission continues to drop, while the number of people who are unaware they have the virus is also falling.
It comes after it was revealed that Britain is “on course” to become a HIV-free nation by 2030.
Despite this, the Terrence Higgins Trust has urged people not to get “complacent” and that HIV transmission won’t end “simply with business as usual.”
In 2014, there were an estimated 2,300 HIV transmissions among men (gay, bisexual or other) who have s*x with other men, falling to 800 in 2018 – a 73 per cent drop.
The number of men who have s*x with other men who are living undiagnosed with HIV has also halved since 2014 from an estimated 7,000 to 3,600 in 2018.
I feel very strongly that we must end HIV transmission
Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Meanwhile, the number of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexuals has almost halved over the past decade, from 3,400 in 2009 to 1,940 in 2018.
Almost half of adults diagnosed in 2018 who acquired HIV heterosexually were born in a country with high HIV prevalence.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I feel very strongly that we must end HIV transmission.
“HIV has brought untold hurt and suffering to so many so it is encouraging to see transmissions continue to fall across the UK.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.
These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV. They include:
- Sore throat
- Body rash
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Swollen glands
After this illness, which normally lasts one to two weeks, HIV sufferers will have no symptoms for up to 10 years – during which time they will look and feel well.
However, the virus will continue to cause progressive damage to a person’s immune system.
Only once the immune system is already severely damaged will the person show new symptoms. These include:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Night sweats
- Skin problems
- Recurrent infections
- Serious, life-threatening illnesses
“We are well on our way towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions by 2030 and we should be rightly proud of the incredible progress we have already made.”
PHE said methods aimed at tackling HIV spread – such as the use of condoms, testing in a wide range of settings, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible if positive and the availability of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for those who are negative – were working.
Dr Noel Gill, head of sexually transmitted infections and HIV at PHE, said: “We are well on our way to reaching the goal of eliminating HIV transmission by 2030, with the rapid fall in HIV transmission continuing in 2018 and nearly all of those diagnosed receiving treatment that prevents onward transmission.
“Testing is a key part of the UK’s success.
We are well on our way to reaching the goal of eliminating HIV transmission by 2030
Dr Noel Gill, head of sexually transmitted infections and HIV at PHE
“If you have HIV you can benefit from life-saving treatments that also prevent further transmission of the virus.
“Certain groups of people are at higher HIV risk and are advised to have regular tests, including men and women who have had unprotected s*x with new or casual partners from countries where HIV is common, who should test every year, and men who have s*x with men.”
Despite this, Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, urged people not to be complacent.
She said: “We won’t end HIV transmissions simply with business as usual as it’s that complacency which poses the biggest barrier to ending the epidemic.
“We now have an ambitious target to reach zero new HIV transmissions that the Government has committed to playing its part in achieving but if progress starts to stagnate we simply won’t get there.
“That’s why the work of the HIV Commission is so important as we need to make sure that everything we’re doing is bringing us closer to ending transmissions within the next ten years.
More on HIV
“In the last decade the rate of diagnoses in gay and bisexual men has reduced by nearly a third but we are not seeing that same level of progress among other groups.
“For example we’re seeing slight increases among black African people and south Asian gay and bisexual men.
“No one can be left behind when it comes to ending HIV and progress across all communities is essential if we are to avoid going backwards.”