Experts concerned about rise of late diagnosis of HIV among straight people in UK
An “alarming” rise in the number of late-stage HIV cases in the UK is down to more straight people being diagnosed with the disease, experts said today.
Four out of 10 people who were newly diagnosed last year were told they were in the late-stages of the disease – when the virus has began its attack on the immune system.
Straight men were the most likely to be diagnosed late (55 per cent), according to the Public Health England figures.
They were followed by black African men and women (53 per cent) and straight women (49 per cent).
In contrast the rates of late diagnosis among men who have sex with men were lower than average, at 30 per cent.
Yet this group is still at high-risk, representing 54 per cent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2015.
National HIV Testing Week, which starts on Saturday, is “needed now more than ever”, according to experts in response to the statistics, who have called for a “culture shift” in attitudes to HIV testing.
Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “These statistics show that National HIV Testing Week is needed more than ever.
“The HIV epidemic hasn’t gone away; there are still alarming and unacceptable rates of late diagnoses, which perpetuate the spread of HIV in the UK.
“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 – perhaps due to fear of the result, or the assumption that they’re not at risk.
“These statistics remind us that HIV is an issue for everyone.
“We want to create a culture shift so that regular testing becomes the norm in every community.”
Earlier this year, Prince Harry took an HIV test in front of the world’s media – and almost immediately, Terrence Higgins Trust saw a five-fold increase in demand for self-test kits.
“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,” said Ian.
“We hope that National HIV Testing Week is another chance to demystify the process of getting tested.
HIV testing is free, fast, confidential and has never been easier. You can test in a hospital, sexual health clinic, at a community event, by post, or even at home.”
Dr Christian Jessen, a longstanding supporter of National HIV Testing Week, said: “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.”
Yvette Twagiramariya, a 28-year-old sales executive from London, who has modelled for the National HIV Testing Week campaign, said: “I made the decision get involved in this campaign because I am from Rwanda where a lot of people are living with HIV, and I also know people here in the UK who are affected by it.
“Unfortunately HIV is always linked to stigma, it has always been a taboo.
“If you talk about HIV around black people, they think you are sleeping around.
“However it shouldn’t have this stigma – I feel confident about testing and I go to sexual clinic regularly, every 3 months or so.”
Find out more about National HIV Testing Week (19 – 25 November) and how to get an HIV test at www.startswithme.org.uk