Research published by Public Health England has found that new HIV diagnoses have fallen to their lowest level since 2000. In 2017, there were 4,363 diagnoses compared to 5,280 in 2016. Much of the overall reduction is driven by a decline in new diagnoses among gay and bisexual men. This demographic has seen an overall decline of 31% since 2015. Gay and bisexual men living in London have seen a 41% decline in new HIV diagnoses.
Public Health England has attributed the decrease to a high uptake in HIV testing, especially repeat testing in higher risk groups. An increase in the uptake of antiretroviral therapy – drugs that keep the HIV levels in blood low and help prevent it from being passed on – has also impacted the decline in figures.
Ian Green, the Chief Executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust spoke about the significance of the findings saying: “Today’s drop in new HIV diagnoses among some communities in the UK clearly shows that we have the tools to end the HIV epidemic in this country”. Green highlighted the importance of the antiretroviral drug PrEP adding that “In light of today’s data, we’re continuing to strongly call on NHS England to play its part in getting to zero HIV transmissions by making PrEP available to all who need it on the NHS in England”.
Conversely, Ireland’s HIV diagnoses rate has been labelled a “disgrace” by Dr Paddy Mullen, head of UCD School of Medicine’s HIV Molecular Research Group. New diagnoses in Ireland remain at their highest ever rates with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s latest data revealing that there has been no decline on 2017 figures. Ireland sees, on average a new HIV diagnoses every 18 hours, 10 a week, or over 500 a year.
As it stands, PrEP is not available through the HSE. Irish doctors can prescribe PrEP but users must pay for the medication themselves. Brand-name Truvada costs around €400 for 30 pills, while generic brands cost less at around €80 for a bottle. HIV Ireland’s PrEP page includes a list of pharmacies that stock generic PrEP.
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