Clinicians at leading London sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street have reported a dramatic drop in the number of people they have diagnosed with HIV this year.
The say they have diagnosed 373 people with HIV so far in 2015, compared with 626 over the same period in 2015. The clinic says it carried out a comparable number of HIV tests, and has not seen a reduced prevalence of other STIs.
56 Dean Street is a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Soho. It was opened in 2009 and is operated by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
What makes the result even more significant is that it has a great number of gay and bisexual men, and diagnoses more cases of HIV than any other individual clinic in the UK.
It accounts for approximately one out of every nine new HIV diagnosis in the UK.
The team at 56 Dean Street believe the reduction is down to their identification and better engagement with high-risk groups, and concerted efforts to reduce the number of people with undiagnosed HIV infection.
It is also the biggest recruiter in the UK to the PROUD study, which is exploring the impact on PrEP on HIV transmission rates, and is the only NHS sexual health clinic currently facilitating the provision of Truvada at cost price.
Currently, if people in the UK want PreP, they have to pay for it at a premium price through a private clinic. Or they can risk buying online from an unregulated source.
However, Dean Street sells Truvada at ‘cost price’ through its Saturday PrEP clinic, and will support clients buying online with advice, regular health monitoring and drug testing.
Staff have noted the success of ‘Getting to Zero” health initiatives in San Francisco to drive down HIV infections: encouraging gay men to get tested and getting HIV positive individuals on to treatment and undetectable as quickly as possible.
Encouraging drop in infection
Dr Alan McOwan, lead clinician at 56 Dean Street, said in a statement: ‘We were determined that 2016 would be the year that London learnt from San Francisco’s success.
‘This drop in new HIV diagnoses could be really significant as the clinic is a major contributor to HIV diagnosis in the UK.
‘Furthermore the impact could spread across the UK thanks to better HIV awareness, frequent testing, early treatment and use of prevention methods such as PEP and PrEP in key populations.
‘It’s encouraging that the number of people we’re diagnosing as HIV positive has dropped so much.
‘We will continue to champion the voices of our clients living with HIV so that we can continue to reduce the stigma associated with what is now a long-term condition, rather than what was a terminal diagnosis only 30 years ago.’
At the start of this month, to coincide with World AIDS Day, Public Health England released its annual HIV statistics. It showed no significant drop in the number of people diagnosed in the UK: 6,095 in 2015 compared to 6,151 in 2014.
However, this 40% drop at 56 Dean Street raises the hope that the 2016 figures will show a greater fall. Half of those diagnosed with HIV are in London.
‘Turning point in the fight to end new HIV infections’
News of the findings was welcomed by those working in the field of gay men and sexual health.
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM, said, ‘The data just released by Dean Street is incredibly exciting and may even mark the turning point in the fight to end new HIV infections.
‘It takes the ambition that we have seen from the health authorities in San Francisco, and from innovative services like Dean Street’s, to drive down HIV incidence.
‘Combination therapy works in fighting HIV. Similarly, a combination approach to HIV prevention, which recognises that people’s needs are varied, is most likely to be successful.
‘The impact of earlier diagnosis and access to treatment, ongoing condom use and the recent addition of PrEP to our prevention armoury gives me hope that the goal of ending HIV is in sight.’