HIV testing rates surge among gay men in England, following nationwide drive


The numbers of gay and bisexual men in England coming forward for HIV testing has surged, following a nationwide drive to encourage those in high-risk groups to test for the virus and reduce the proportion of infections that remain undiagnosed.

Data collected by Public Health England (PHE) showed a marked increase in HIV testing rates among men who have sex with men during the period from 2011 – 2012, the period when Terrence Higgins Trust and HIV Prevention England launched National HIV Testing Week. The week was launched in November 2012 to encourage HIV testing among high-risk groups, in the largest partnership to date between NHS sexual health clinics, community based HIV testing services, and national and local HIV prevention organisations. This year, the third National HIV Testing Week will run from 22nd – 30th November.

Between 2011 and 2012, the number of gay and bisexual men who had an HIV test in NHS clinics in England rose by 13% (64,270 – 72,710). In London, the increase was sharper still, with a rise of 19% (28,640 – 33,980). During the same period, the proportion of gay and bisexual men with HIV who remained undiagnosed fell from 20% to 18%.

Cary James, Head of Health Improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We have been thrilled by the success of National HIV Testing Week, and particularly the speed and enthusiasm with which people all over the country have picked up the event and run with it.

“The national figures on HIV give us confidence that our ongoing drive to get more gay men testing more regularly is having an impact. Testing rates are up, diagnoses are up, and the level of undiagnosed HIV is coming down. We need to keep this momentum going, so we will be throwing everything we have behind National HIV Testing Week 2014. We want to get the message out there that together, we can stop HIV.”

In the UK, gay men and African communities are the groups most at risk of HIV. Currently, around one in five people with HIV remains undiagnosed and therefore more likely to pass the virus on than someone who has tested and is on treatment. HIV Prevention England’s It Starts With Me campaign focuses on curbing new infections by increasing testing rates and reducing the level of undiagnosed HIV within high-risk groups.

National HIV Testing Week is supported by major public health bodies, including LASS, Public Health England, the British HIV Association (BHIVA), and the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

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