We have the tools to end HIV once and for all – let’s get on with it


On average, more than one young person aged 15-24 is infected with HIV every day. (Picture: Mmuffin for Metro.co.uk)

This week saw further confirmation that our approach to preventing HIV is working, with 2017 seeing a 17% decline in diagnoses from 2016 and a 28% drop compared to 2015.

Such progress would have been unthinkable even up until few years ago when rates of HIV continued to climb among gay and bisexual men – it wasn’t until the last two years that we have seen a fall.

The announcement of a second annual consecutive fall in HIV diagnoses can be attributed increased efforts to step up testing, uptake of anti-HIV drug, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and the ground-breaking acknowledgement that people living with HIV and on effective treatment cannot pass on the virus.

For gay and bisexual men, who continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus, there has been a 31% drop in new diagnoses since 2015. Other populations, including black African men and women have also seen sustained decline in diagnoses.

Whilst this news has been warmly received – and rightly so – this is not the time to be congratulating ourselves but instead a time to step up our commitment to ending HIV transmissions.

It’s estimated that around 1 in 8 people living with HIV are unaware of their status and are therefore not only putting their own health at risk, they could be unknowingly passing on the virus to others.

This week’s statistics also showed that 42% of people with HIV were diagnosed late, with people aged 50 and black African communities at greatest risk of late diagnosis.

The fact we have a pill that can prevent a life-long condition and it is still not routinely available on the NHS is nothing short of a scandal.

There’s no doubt that access to PrEP has made a big contribution to reducing infections, but in England there remains a cap of 10,000 on the number of people who can access this game-changing drug.

The fact we have a pill that can prevent a life-long condition and it is still not routinely available on the NHS, is nothing short of a scandal – this data speaks for itself; we urgently need to give PrEP on the NHS so no one is refused access.

Testing also plays a fundamental role in halting HIV.

The virus can now be tested for in a matter of minutes and self-testing kits now mean people can test within their own home.

But testing at home isn’t for everyone and therefore it’s vital that we have fully funded and accessible sexual health services when people need them.

Only last week the Local Government Association described sexual health services as being at ‘tipping point’ due to increased demand not being matched with proper funding from the UK Government. This cannot continue and we risk undoing the progress in reducing new infections.

Work also remains to ensure that future generations fully understand the realities of HIV and how to minimise their risk of becoming infected with the virus.

From 2020, sex education lessons will be compulsory in both England and Wales.

On average, more than one young person aged 15-24 is infected with HIV every day.

This coupled with the fact that young people continue to account for the highest proportion of new STI diagnoses, mean there’s a pressing need to make sure schools provide information about where to access sexual health services and crucially to normalise discussions about sexual health.

The awkwardness of talking about sex should be addressed at school so young people have the confidence and are empowered to have fulfilling and healthy relationships in later life.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first ever World AIDS Day, which was held in the backdrop of an epidemic that even the greatest scientific minds struggled to find a means of halting.

Three decades on, we are finally starting to beat this virus. As we have seen from activists throughout those years and those who we have lost to the epidemic, complacency will get us nowhere.

It’s time to aim big and demand an end to HIV, once and for all.

We have the tools to do this. Let’s get on with it.

Terrence Higgins Trust are the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity. You can find out more information about they work they do here

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