Despite what is called the “Prince Harry effect”, there are alarming rates of late-stage HIV diagnosis in the UK. 50,000 men are now living with HIV in the UK and 1 in 7 are unaware they have the virus.
These alarming figures are thanks to Public Health England just ahead of National HIV Testing Week and in light of these findings Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, has said that we need National HIV Testing Week “now more than ever”.
Despite the ease of access and availability of HIV testing in the UK, it still carries with it a heavy social stigma which prevents people from being forward. The huge uptick of testing we saw in the wake of Prince Harry’s live HIV test on Facebook shows that while visibility is important, there are still huge strides to be made.
Green said: “The ‘Prince Harry effect’ showed us just now much work there is still to be done to tackle stigma around testing for HIV – as soon as one high profile individual lifted the lid on how easy it is to take an HIV test, people’s fear temporarily evaporated.”
“The HIV epidemic hasn’t gone away; there are still alarming and unacceptable rates of undiagnosed HIV and late diagnoses in the UK, even among men who have sex with men, a community where HIV awareness is higher than average. People who have undiagnosed HIV face poorer health and are more likely to pass the virus onto others.”
The number of men who engage in same-sex activities newly diagnosed with HIV remained at a worryingly high 3,200 last year, however diagnoses rates among that same group was lower than the year previous.
Figures revealed that 30% of gay or bisexual men newly diagnosed in 2015 had late-stage HIV, compared with the overall level of 39%. While this was a slight decrease from the peak of 3,360 new diagnoses in the previous year, it still remains high overall.
The figures also showed that straight men are most likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of the disease (55%) followed by black African men and women (53%) and straight women (49 %). Men who have sex with men are below average (30 %) when it comes to being diagnosed late, but are still a high HIV risk.
Green continued: “Men who have sex with men are still one of the hardest-hit communities for HIV in the UK, representing half of those living with HIV. We already have a powerful tool that could help stop the epidemic in its tracks: the HIV test. People who know their status can get onto effective treatment, which stops the virus from being passed on.”
“But too many people are missing out on HIV tests and therefore this life-changing treatment – perhaps due to fear of the result, or the assumption that they’re not at risk. As National HIV Testing Week approaches, we want to create a culture shift so that regular and routine testing becomes the norm.”
Dr Christian Jessen, a longstanding supporter of National HIV Testing Week, has also joined the calls for more regular testing and testing awareness among the general public: “I’m a fervent champion of National HIV Testing Week. I often find that people are really afraid of taking an HIV test – it can sound like a daunting prospect, but honestly it isn’t. Testing puts you in control.”
“Many people living with HIV do not know they have it – and are therefore likely to unwittingly pass on the virus. On the other hand, those who get a positive result and onto effective treatment can live a long and healthy life, and cannot pass on HIV to others. It’s a no brainer. The challenge is now to bust the stigma that stops people getting tested in the first place. The sooner we can do that, the quicker we can stop HIV.”
If you want to find out more about National HIV Testing Week and how easy it is to get tested, head to startswithme.org.uk