NAT comments on Health Protection Agency reports on HIV.
People shouldn’t be scared of HIV testing – they should be scared of undiagnosed HIV
New figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) reveal the number of people living with HIV in the UK hit 91,500 in 2010 (up from 86,500 in 2009), with 6,660 new diagnoses that year.
Half of people diagnosed with HIV in 2010 were heterosexuals (predominantly African men and women) and 45% were gay men*. There were an estimated 3,000 new diagnoses among gay men, which is the highest number since records began.
Nearly a quarter of people with HIV (24%) remain unaware of their infection and the proportion of late** diagnoses remains worryingly high at 50%. However, this has dropped by nearly 10% in the last ten years. Heterosexual men remain the most likely group to be diagnosed late at 63%, compared to 39% of gay men and 58% of heterosexual women.
The annual number of diagnosed HIV infections which were acquired within the UK has almost doubled over the past decade (from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,640 in 2010), now exceeding the proportion probably acquired abroad.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:
‘The number of people who don’t know they have HIV, and are diagnosed late, is a serious issue. Not only does it have a severe impact on health and reduce life expectancy, this largely accounts for the onward transmission of HIV as people aren’t taking the necessary steps to avoid passing it on. We need the Government to take the lead on tackling this and make the case, at a national level, for the importance of testing.
‘We also need to eradicate the fear around HIV testing – the test itself is a minor process which can nowadays be done through a finger-prick or saliva test – and if you are diagnosed with HIV, there is effective treatment available. It is always better to know your status and when it comes to having HIV, ignorance is definitely not bliss.
‘People shouldn’t be scared of HIV testing, but they should be scared of undiagnosed HIV. The advances in HIV treatment have been one of the biggest success stories in the 30 years since the virus first emerged, but too many people test too late and so fail to benefit from these drugs.
‘For the last three years there has been guidance which recommends routinely offering HIV testing in a wide variety of settings, particularly in areas of high HIV prevalence, but this remains largely ignored or patchily implemented. This is a huge failure on the part of local Primary Care Trusts and action needs to be taken if we are to increase uptake of HIV testing and reduce undiagnosed HIV.’
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Notes to the editor:
* Use of the term gay men refers generally to men who have sex with men, even if they do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual
** A late HIV diagnosis means being diagnosed after the point at which treatment should have started and possibly having been infected for many years
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NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.
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