26 November 2010
The number of people living with HIV in the UK reached an estimated 86,500 in 2009, but more than a quarter - almost 22,500 - were unaware of their infection, according to figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) today.
A total of 6,630 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2009 – 4,400 men and 2,230 women. Although this represents the fourth year-on-year decline in the number of new diagnoses, evidence suggests that there has been no decline in the number of undiagnosed infections in the past decade.
The HPA’s report also found that over half of people newly diagnosed in 2009 – 3,450 – were diagnosed late, after the stage when treatment should have started.
Dr Valerie Delpech, consultant epidemiologist and head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, said: “We’re very concerned that a large number of people in the UK are unaware of their HIV status and that half of all newly diagnosed people are diagnosed late, meaning they may not benefit from very effective treatments.
“The HPA would like to see increased access to HIV testing in areas where rates of HIV infection are high. Pilot studies have shown that in these areas testing all adults registering at GPs or accessing certain hospital services can make an impact.
“The evidence shows that this testing is feasible to undertake and acceptable to patients. We would like to see this rolled out in areas where HIV infection is more common to reduce the number of people who are unaware of their HIV status and increase the chances of early diagnosis, when treatment is more successful.”
Across the UK, 1.4 people per 1,000 of the population - both diagnosed and undiagnosed - were living with HIV in 2009. Expanded HIV testing is recommended in areas where the number of people diagnosed is greater than 2 per 1,000 population. Of the 37 PCTs in England with rates above this level, 26 of them were London boroughs. Overall in London, 5.24 per 1,000 people were living with a diagnosed HIV infection in 2009. Other areas with rates above 5 per 1,000 were Brighton and Hove City (7.57 per 1,000 people) and Manchester (5.22 per 1,000 people).
As well as monitoring early diagnosis, the HPA has developed measures to evaluate the quality of treatment and care HIV patients receive. Analysis of data across London in 2008 found that over 80 per cent of patients were seen for HIV care within one month of diagnosis. And a high level of care in the UK was also observed – close monitoring of those undergoing treatment found that over 90 per cent of patients had an undetectable viral load within a year as well as a restored immune system. This not only confirms that treatments are effective for the patient but that the chance of transmitting the virus is greatly reduced.
Dr Delpech added: “Thanks to the development of anti-retroviral treatments and universal access to world class health care through the NHS, HIV is a manageable illness for the vast majority of people in this country. We’re very pleased that 8 out of 10 people in London newly diagnosed with HIV are receiving immediate access to care but we need to ensure this is maintained and improved upon across the UK.”
Dr Paul Cosford, HPA’s director of Health Protection Services, said: “Today’s figures suggest that extra effort is needed to ensure more people are aware of their HIV status. This will enable faster access to treatment, improve survival and reduce the risk of transmission to partners.
“As well as widespread access to HIV testing, the HPA recommends that people who are at higher risk of HIV, such as men have sex with men and black Africans living in this country, should know their status and consider testing regularly. And it’s crucial to remember that using a condom with all new or casual sexual partners is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.”
Notes to editors
Last reviewed: 25 November 2010