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Too many UK Africans are missing out on life-saving HIV medication because they’re diagnosed too late

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Ahead of this year’s National HIV Testing Week (22nd – 29th November), new figures released today by the Public Health England (PHE) show that in 2012, UK Africans were the group most likely to be diagnosed late with HIV.

Scientists and public health bodies agree that undiagnosed HIV infection is a key factor driving the UK epidemic. Modern drug treatments drive down the level of virus in the body, often to an undetectable level. This means someone with HIV who has tested and is on treatment is far less likely to pass on the virus than someone who doesn’t yet know they have it. Currently, most onward HIV transmission in the UK comes from people who are unaware they have the infection.

66 per cent of African men and 61 per cent of African women diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were diagnosed late, at a point after which they should have already started treatment. Someone who is diagnosed late and doesn’t start treatment on time will die on average 10 years earlier than someone who tests in good time. They are also far more likely to pass on the virus unwittingly.

HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is calling for a doubling in the numbers of UK Africans who take an annual HIV test.

 

Taku Mukiwa, Health Promotion Specialist for African Communities at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “For many UK Africans, the word HIV still conjures images of the pain and death this virus has caused in Africa over three decades. No one needs to suffer in the same way in the UK today. There is free medication available irrespective of your immigration status. Someone who is diagnosed in good time in this country can expect to live a near-normal life expectancy, have healthy relationships irrespective of their partner’s HIV status, even start a family. Taking the treatments also means you are far less likely to pass on the virus to others.

 

“HIV doesn’t need to damage our communities any more, but we have to drive down undiagnosed and late diagnosed HIV. Testing is fast, simple and confidential – Africans in England can even test by post. I would urge anyone unsure of their HIV status to take a test during National HIV Testing Week – it is the single most powerful thing you can do to protect your health and the health of the whole community.”

 

Scientists and public health bodies agree that undiagnosed HIV infection is a key factor driving the UK epidemic. Modern drug treatments drive down the level of virus in the body, often to an undetectable level. This means someone with HIV who has tested and is on treatment is far less likely to pass on the virus than someone who doesn’t yet know they have it. Currently, most onward HIV transmission in the UK comes from people who are unaware they have the infection.

National HIV Testing Week runs from 22nd – 29th November. It is being co-ordinated by Terrence Higgins Trust through HIV Prevention England, a partnership of community organisations funded by the Department of Health to carry out national HIV prevention work in England among communities at an increased risk of infection. For further information, visit www.startswithme.org.uk.

 

Public Health England’s key findings:

  • 6,360 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2012, a 1% increase on the previous year.
  • Nearly half (47%) of those people were diagnosed late, after a point at which they should have started treatment.
  • 3,250 of the total new diagnoses were among gay and bisexual men, the highest annual figure since the start of the epidemic. Between 2011 and 2012, testing rates in this group increased significantly, with an estimated 100,000 tests taken.
  • 45% of new diagnoses in 2012 were acquired heterosexually. One in three heterosexual men and one in four heterosexual women were undiagnosed.
  • 88% of people with diagnosed HIV were receiving treatment in 2012, and 87% of those receiving treatment had an undetectable viral load, meaning they are unlikely to be infectious.

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