The rate of new HIV diagnoses in Lancashire is increasing, bucking the national trend.
The latest Public Health England data shows there were 4.4 new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 people aged 15 and over in Lancashire in 2017. That’s up from four new diagnoses per 100,000 the year before.
This goes against the trend across England, where the new diagnosis rate has steadily reduced, from 12.9 in 2012 to 8.7 last year. The National Aids Trust said the overall figures showed the HIV epidemic is slowing, however warned “cuts to HIV prevention expenditure must be reversed if we are to avoid progress stalling”.
Over that time period HIV testing in Lancashire has increased. In 2017, 64 per cent of eligible patients attending a sexual health clinic had an HIV test, compared with 61 per cent in 2016. Men were much more likely to accept a test than women.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, damages the immune system and weakens the ability to fight everyday infections. This can lead to a person getting Aids, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is the name for a collection of potentially life-threatening illnesses which occur after your immune system has been damaged by HIV.
Aids cannot be transmitted from one person to another, however HIV can. You cannot contract Aids without HIV. Debbie Laycock, head of policy at HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the drop in new HIV diagnoses showed “the progress we’re making”.
“This has been achieved through determined activism and by effectively utilising everything at our disposal in the fight against HIV, including access to condoms, regular testing and HIV prevention pill PrEP,” she explained.
As well as new HIV diagnoses rising in Lancashire, HIV prevalence is increasing. In 2011, when this data was first recorded, there were 65 people per 100,000 who were HIV positive. That figure rose to 91 last year.
The Terrence Higgins Trust said it was hard to judge the significance of this, as better quality treatment means HIV positive people are living far longer lives than previously. Ms Laycock explained: “This increase is predominantly a result of the amazing treatment we now have to effectively manage HIV, which is something that seemed a distant prospect at the start of the epidemic.”
In many people HIV has been reduced to an undetectable level, so they cannot pass it on. Lancashire’s HIV prevalence is below the average for the North West, which is 185 per 100,000 people.
Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, said the figures showed “we are well on our way to eradicating” HIV, but he warned against complacency. He continued: “Our commitment to prevention has led to more people getting tested and almost every person with a diagnosis is now in treatment – meaning they are unlikely to pass the virus on to someone else. I am committed to ensuring that we deliver on our promise to reduce the number of people contracting HIV even further.”