The UK is “well on the way” to eradicating HIV, health leaders have claimed, after new figures showed diagnoses have reached their lowest level since 2000.
Latest data from Public Health England has revealed that 4,363 new cases were confirmed across the nation in 2017, a reduction of 17% compared to the previous year and a 28% drop from 2016.
“Today’s figures mean we are well on our way to eradicating it once and for all but we have not an ounce of complacency”
PHE said the progress was largely driven by a decline in new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men due to higher levels of HIV testing in this group.
Increased uptake of anti-retroviral therapy – drugs that keep the level of HIV in the body low and help prevent it being passed on – had also “significantly contributed” to the fall in new diagnoses, PHE added.
In 2017, 93,385 people were receiving HIV-related care in the UK, with 98% taking anti-retroviral therapy. Of those receiving anti-retroviral therapy, 97% had untransmissible levels of virus.
However, the new statistics also revealed that 42% of people were diagnosed at a late stage of infection, which meant they were 10 times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis. There were 428 deaths among people with HIV in the UK last year, the PHE data showed.
Public health minister Steve Brine said: “HIV is a devastating and life-altering disease. Today’s figures mean we are well on our way to eradicating it once and for all but we have not an ounce of complacency.”
“It is vital we have fully funded and easily accessible sexual health services”
He added: “Our commitment to prevention has led to more people getting tested and almost every person with a diagnosis is now in treatment – meaning they are unlikely to pass the virus on to someone else.
“I am committed to ensuring that we deliver on our promise to reduce the number of people contracting HIV even further,” said Mr Brine.
There has been a move in recent years towards self-testing and online sexual health support.
Ian Green, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was “vital” to still retain face-to-face services to keep up the good progress.
He said: “HIV treatment has undoubtedly played a significant role in this decline. Now, when someone is diagnosed, they are encouraged to start treatment as soon as possible. This enables them to more quickly achieve an undetectable viral load, which means HIV can’t be passed on.”
He added: “Testing options have also improved in recent years and now HIV self-test kits, where you test at home and get a result within 15 minutes, are sold on the high street.
“We’re also offering these tests for free to people from the communities most affected by HIV,” he said. ”But testing at home isn’t for everyone and it is vital we have fully funded and easily accessible sexual health services for those who want or need a face to face service.”
Mr Green also called for the HIV prevention drug PrEP to be made more widely available.
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The government handed over the commissioning of public health services to local authorities in 2013.
Analysis from the Local Government Association found funding to councils for these services will be cut by £600m between 2015 and 2020.
Earlier this year a survey conducted by the Royal College of Nursing revealed nurses working in sexual health clinics were having to turn patients away due to severe understaffing.