Call for HIV testing as record number of gay men diagnosed

Truvada drug used to treat HIV

HIV testing should become routine say experts as new figures reveal 'worrying' upward trend

LAST UPDATED AT 13:13 ON Thu 29 Nov 2012

THE NUMBER of gay and bisexual men newly diagnosed as carrying the virus which causes AIDS is at an all-time high in the UK. And though heterosexual infection continues to decline because fewer people are contracting the virus while abroad, more and more heterosexuals catch it in the UK.

The new figures, which are only complete to the end of 2011, are revealed in the annual report published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), released today ahead of World Aids Day on Saturday.

There were 6,280 new diagnoses of HIV in 2011 – meaning that 96,000 people are now living with the virus in the UK. Of those 6,280, almost half – 3,010 to be exact – were gay men or "men who sometimes have sex with men".

The latest increase among that group is part of a year-on-year trend since 2007 which the HPA described as "worrying". Now one in 20 such men is HIV positive – and the proportion rises to one in 12 in London, says The Guardian.

The rise among all known HIV cases to 96,000 is not as bad as the HPA had feared: releasing their previous annual report, they predicted the number of people living with HIV would top 100,000 by the end of that year, as The Guardian reported then.

When the AIDS epidemic first emerged there was no treatment. Because the HIV virus, if diagnosed early enough, can now be controlled with drugs keeping the infected person healthy and giving them a normal lifespan, there are inevitably more and more HIV-positive people still living.

But the rise in new diagnoses among gay men confirms an alarming trend. The Daily Mail quotes Prof Jane Anderson of the British HIV Association who complained of a lack of routine testing. She warned that GPs don't check new patients for HIV as a matter of course and called for a "greater emphasis on HIV testing".

Sir Nick Partridge of the Terence Higgins Trust said: "Thirty years on from the start of the epidemic, public understanding of HIV has dropped to a worrying level.

"A simple HIV test, offered free at clinics and testing services all over the country, might add over 40 years to the life of someone with HIV, diagnosed in good time." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.