Scottish context on new UK HIV figures

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Tuesday 3rd October 2017

Nathan Sparling, Head of Policy and Campaigning blogs on the figures released today by Public Health England and the Scottish context.

Today’s announcement from Public Health England, which shows a dramatic fall in new HIV infections focused in parts of London among the gay and bisexual men in 2016, is very welcome and presents an exciting development in the response to the UK’s HIV epidemic. It is the first release of data in the UK which clearly shows that a package of prevention methods has worked to reduce new transmissions in a priority population.

The new figures from London clearly show that with an engaged population, combination prevention works and that’s why we must ensure an effective PrEP rollout reaches all of those eligible. The more recent figures on the roll-out in Scotland showed that already 404 people are on PrEP, leading to more opportunities for engagement with services. This combined with other prevention methods from effective treatment for people living with HIV to educating our young people in schools, can help Scotland contribute to the global mission to reach zero new transmissions.

Scotland saw a similar drop in new infections during 2016, but we cannot be confident that this reduction will be maintained so we must not be complacent. It is potentially too early to attribute the 2016 drop in new infections to any one source, but the increased use of internet-acquired PrEP, during this time, hand-in-hand with effective treatment has possibly played a part.

More problematically, Scotland suffers from a crisis in late diagnoses. The rates of people being diagnosed with HIV late, which is measured if you have a CD4 count of less than 350 within 30 days of HIV diagnosis, has remained steady at around 43%. This is particularly a problem with indigenous Scots, and late diagnosis contributes to a 10-fold-increase in the risk of death within a year of diagnosis.

Ensuring that we close the gap in Scotland’s undiagnosed population is important and remains a priority for decision makers in Scotland. As HIV testing opportunities increase, we will be playing a part in reducing new infections over time as people receive effective treatment and become un-infectious.

At present, HIV Scotland is leading work with professionals and communities across Scotland to ensure that we exceed the UNAIDS target of 90% diagnosed, and as we roll out new initiatives and strategies targeted at priority populations and in high prevalent geographical areas, we could see the steady rate of new infections continue and a 100% diagnosed HIV population become a reality.