Latest Scotland HIV stats show decrease in new infections

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Tuesday 21st March 2017

We are very encouraged to see a drop in the overall number of cases of HIV reported in Scotland by Health Protection Scotland for 2016. This is the fewest new number of HIV infections in Scotland in over ten years. 285 new cases were reported in 2016, down from the average of 359 new cases per year over the past five years. Despite the drop in new infections HIV remains a key public health issue affecting around 5277 people in Scotland. This drop maybe caused by a number of factors, and it will take several years before the reasons are made clear, or it may be that this was just a one-off drop.

Some possible reasons could include changes in test rates, increase in people living with HIV reaching levels of viral undetectability (meaning they are unlikely to be able to pass on the virus thanks to the effects of the treatment they are on), or the increased use of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

The reduced rates of infection are only in sexual transmissions. Transmissions through injecting drug use over the previous two years continue to be significantly higher than in previous years. There were 36 new cases in 2016 and 56 new cases in 2015, while the five years before them saw an average of 20 new cases per year.

Although Scotland has not had the same pilot schemes rolling out PrEP as in London, we believe it is likely that PrEP has played a part in reducing new HIV sexual infections. This is the first time in more than a decade that we have seen a decrease and while there are a number of factors to consider, we know that dozens of locals and visitors to Scotland have been using PrEP.

People taking PrEP, or on treatment for HIV, in other places where people from Scotland visit may also have played a role in Scotland's reduced HIV infection rates.

New treatment guidelines in Scotland have also ensured that more people diagnosed with HIV are put on treatment earlier. This means that they reach an undetectable level of virus in their body faster, and are therefore healthier and unlikely to be able to pass on the infection.

This gives us real hope that if we can make PrEP available on the NHS, to the people who need it most in Scotland, that the outcome of zero new HIV infections in Scotland is achievable in the near future. HIV Scotland asks that Scotland continues to roll out the recommendations of the Scottish PrEP Short Life Working Group, which was administered by HIV Scotland, so that there can be an increase in the availability, monitoring, and surveillance of PrEP. The Scottish Medicines Consortium is due to announce its decision on whether to make PrEP available in Scotland on the NHS on Monday 10 April 2017.

Visit the Health Protection Scotland website for more information and statistics.