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Thursday, 29 November 2018

UK becomes one of first countries to hit key target in HIV battle, says health agency

Written by Sam Blewett

The UK has become one of the first countries to meet a key target in the battle against the HIV epidemic, figures suggest.

Statistics released by Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday indicate Britain has met the 90-90-90 benchmark, which campaigners hailed as an "extraordinary moment".

The global target for 2020 is to ensure 90% of those with HIV are diagnosed, 90% receive antiretroviral treatment and 90% of those treated reach viral suppression.

The PHE estimates suggest the UK hit the target last year, with levels of 92%, 98% and 97% respectively.

Treatment means that 87% of people with infections in the UK have an undetectable trace of the virus and are unable to pass it on, PHE said.

Britain now joins the ranks of six other nations who have met the UNAIDS target: Botswana, Cambodia, Denmark, Eswatini, Namibia and the Netherlands.

Improvement is still needed, with 8% (8,200) of the estimated 102,000 people in the UK living with HIV unaware of their infection.

Also, 43% (1,879) of new diagnoses were made at a late stage of infection, PHE estimated.

But the statistics suggest new diagnoses in the UK fell 17% from 5,280 in 2016 to 4,363 last year.

Success was attributed to condom use, increased testing and, potentially, the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is being trialled on the NHS and is available elsewhere.

National Aids Trust (NAT) chief executive Deborah Gold said staff were "overjoyed" by the development, which places the UK as a "global leader on HIV".

"This is an extraordinary moment in the fight against HIV - in which everything seems possible," she said.

"The Government must explicitly commit to achieving zero new infections and zero stigma, and agree a plan as to how to get there."

Ian Green (pictured), chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, celebrated the "fantastic news".

"But this is far from the end and it's time for us to be even more ambitious as we work towards ending new HIV transmissions entirely in the UK," he added.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Today's report is a poignant and powerful reminder of how far we've come.

"Now in the UK, almost everyone with HIV is not only diagnosed and in treatment but living long, healthy lives - and we're one of just a handful of countries to meet these ambitious UN targets."

The figures came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Europe as a whole was not on track to meet the target by the 2020 deadline, with "unacceptably high" numbers of new infections.

"My call to governments, ministers of health and decision-makers is bold: scale up your response now," Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Europe director, said.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Terrence Higgins Trust.