A Public Health England report has found that new HIV diagnoses fell by 21% in 2016 compared with the previous year.

For the first time since the beginning of the HIV epidemic more than 30 years ago, a fall in the number of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men has been recorded, a report from Public Health England (PHE) has said.

The report ‘Towards elimination of HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths in the UK’ found that new diagnoses fell by 21% from 3,570 in 2015 to 2,810 in 2016. The decline was recorded across five London clinics that delivered high levels of HIV testing, including frequent testing of men at high risk of HIV, along with the accelerated start of anti-retroviral therapy at HIV diagnosis.

The estimated number of new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men has been falling since its high point in 2012, but this is the first time that the number of new recorded cases has fallen.

The first decrease

The report says: “In early 2017, certain sexual health services in London reported a decrease in new HIV diagnoses among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

“In this report, we confirm that, for the first time since the beginning of the UK epidemic, the number of HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men has fallen.”

The report says that there is the potential to eliminate HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths if combination prevention used among gay and bisexual men in London is replicated, and that life expectancy for people with newly diagnosed HIV, if it is diagnosed early and they receive treatment, is no different from the rest of the population.

PHE head of HIV surveillance, Valerie Delpech, said that in London all the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS) 90:90:90 targets have been met, with 90% of people living with HIV infection diagnosed, 97% of people diagnosed receiving treatment, and 97% of those receiving treatment virally suppressed.

“By continuing to invest in effective preventative measures including condom use, expanded HIV testing, prompt treatment and the use of PrEP, the elimination of HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths could become a reality in the UK,” she said.

Elizabeth Carlin, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: “As a next step, we call upon the government to ensure that appropriate levels of funding are in place to support the availability of increased testing and rapid access to treatment including the national roll-out of PrEP for all those at risk.”