- At the moment, over 1,100 gay and bi men contract HIV in England each year but the tools now exist to slash that number.
A new report has set out ambitious targets to slash HIV rates so under 50 gay and bi men contract the virus in England each year by 2030.
In 2019, there were 1,163 new cases where gay and bi men became HIV positive in England.
But the report says the tools and strategies now exist to slash that to under 450 gay and bi men by 2025 and under 50 in 2030.
The report – launched for World AIDS Day today – also envisions similar drops among heterosexuals and black Africans in England. However, gay and bi men remain the biggest group in the figures.
Meanwhile the report aims to reduce deaths from AIDS-related conditions from 472 in 2019 to under 11 a year in a decade from now. Most of the current deaths are entirely preventable if people test early for HIV, get diagnosed and start effective treatment.
Speaking online about the new report today, National AIDS Trust patron and HIV activist Elton John said England could achieve an ambitious goal.
He said: ‘Right now we have the chance to make a historic commitment as the first country to end its HIV epidemic.’
‘Test, test, test’
That’s the same conclusion reached by the HIV Commission – a consortium of HIV organizations and experts set up to tackle the pandemic.
In her introduction to the new report, commission chair, Dame Inga Beale, concludes that ending the HIV crisis is now achievable.
She writes: ‘I went into the process daring to dream about what can be achieved. Following the 15 months leading this commission of remarkable people, discovering the potential of this remarkable sector, I count myself among the optimists and pragmatists.’
But she adds the UK government’s promises now need act and sets out what those actions should be.
‘Despite progress so far and best intentions, England is not yet on track to meet the 2030 goal. This commission, having heard from experts from all walks of life and inspiring people living with HIV, provides a pathway towards meeting this ambition.’
In particular, the commission concludes testing is vital. Beale adds:
‘The message from the HIV Commission is “test, test, test”.
‘To find the estimated 5,900 undiagnosed people living with HIV in England, HIV testing must be normalised throughout the health service.
‘Everyone should know their HIV status, and there needs to be equitable and easy access to this knowledge.’
‘When patients register for a GP, present at A&E or when the NHS takes blood samples across all kinds of healthcare settings, there must be an offer of an opt-out, not opt-in, HIV test.’
Testing is vital because people who have HIV can then start treatment swiftly. This improves their health and reduces the levels of the virus in their body to undetectable levels. At that stage, they can not pass the virus on to anyone else – even if having unprotected sex.
But the commission says the government should also invest new resources into the fight to end HIV. And it calls on England to make tackling the virus a national and local priority.
It says the country won’t achieve the 2030 targets unless there’s an 80% reduction in transmission by 2025. That, the commissioners conclude, is why action is now urgent.
And they add: ‘In a system so fragmented, leadership is necessary and accountability crucial. This is a role only national government can take on – the more it does the more our success is assured.’