A newly published Public Health England report shows that there has been a slowing of the decline in new HIV diagnoses. This comes one year on from the Government committing to ending HIV transmissions by 2030.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says prevention and public health are unwavering priorities for the Government, yet access to HIV-prevention pill PrEP remains capped in England and sexual health services are struggling to cope with demand.
As part of work to achieve the 2030 goal, Terrence Higgins Trust and NAT (National AIDS Trust) have established an independent HIV Commission to consult widely ahead of making its evidence-based recommendations in the spring.
Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We won’t end HIV transmissions simply with business as usual, and 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.
“While the last few years have been a real success story for bringing down new HIV diagnoses, today’s data shows there is an undeniable slowing happening. 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 10 years.
“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.
“This means looking beyond the groups traditionally associated with HIV and increasing testing in all communities. The fact we are still seeing 43% of all new HIV diagnoses at a late stage, in particular among heterosexual men and the over-50s, is evidence of the urgent need to engage these groups around HIV and regular testing.
“We know that stigma continues to be a huge barrier in preventing people coming forward to get tested. That’s why updating the public’s knowledge about HIV is crucial if we are to get the estimated 7,500 people who remain undiagnosed tested and onto treatment.
“The new data is further evidence of the crucial role people living with HIV are playing in ending transmissions, as effective treatment means the virus can’t be passed on. That’s why ensuring people living with HIV are able to live well must be a key priority.”
On PrEP access and the Government’s commitment to ending HIV transmissions, Ms Laycock said:
“The Health Secretary says prevention and public health are clear priorities for this Government, yet access to HIV-prevention pill PrEP remains capped in England and sexual health services are struggling to cope with demand. We strongly support the Government’s focus on prevention, but it needs to put its money where its mouth is by providing PrEP access for all who need it and ensuring sexual health services are fully funded to play their part in reaching the 2030 target.
“Despite PrEP playing a significant part in the decline of new HIV transmissions over the past few years, in particular among gay and bisexual men, access to the drug remains capped in England. Waiting lists across the country are growing and we know that several men have been diagnosed with HIV while trying to access PrEP. This is a scandal and underlines why the limited availability of PrEP risks seriously holding us back in the fight against HIV.
“There are now fewer than nine months until England’s PrEP trial is due to end and we still have no confirmation about what the future of this HIV game-changer will be. We will not stop fighting until PrEP is given a proper home as part of routine sexual health services and is accessible to all who need it, as well as ensuring it’s properly promoted to all groups impacted by HIV.
“The ongoing rhetoric around public health and prevention must now be urgently backed up with decisive action. We’re looking to Matt Hancock to fulfil his commitment on PrEP and step up and show that public health - including sexual health - is a real priority for this Government.”
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