Tag Archives: Nick Partridge

Record numbers of UK gay men test positive for HIV


  • Almost half of new cases are gay or bisexual males
  • Up to 10,000 unaware of their infection, says study

The number of gay men being diagnosed with HIV has reached a record high in the UK, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

One in 20 gay men and men who occasionally have sex with men are HIV positive in the UK – and in London, the ratio is as high as one in 12. Part of the reason for the observed rise is increased testing, but, says the HPA, it is also clear that too many men are unaware that they have HIV and are unknowingly infecting others.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 gay men are HIV positive and unaware of their status,” said Dr Valerie Delpech, the HPA’s head of HIV surveillance.

According to the HPA’s annual report, released on Thursday in advance of World Aids Day on Saturday, 3,010 men who have sex with men were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011 – 47.9% of all new diagnoses in the UK. The numbers have remained high since 2007.

Men who have tested positive and been put on drug treatment, which can keep them healthy and give them a normal lifespan, are unlikely to be infectious. Trials have shown that treatment has a role to play in preventing the spread of the epidemic – the drugs reduce the levels of virus in somebody with HIV to such a low level that they are unlikely to transmit the infection to a sexual partner.

The HPA and organisations for those diagnosed with HIV are all advocating regular testing for anybody at risk. Gay men and other men who have sex with men should take an annual test, they say – and if they have new or casual partners, they should be tested every three months.

Living a long and healthy life with HIV depends on starting treatment early. “People are still starting late: they are infected for three to five years before they are diagnosed,” said Delpech. People who are diagnosed as HIV positive late are at 10 times the risk of dying within a year of discovering they have the infection. They are also more likely to infect people while they remain unaware of their status.

The black African community in Britain also faces a higher risk than average, with 37 out of every 1,000 living with HIV last year. Far more men and women in the black African community are diagnosed late than gay men – 68% and 61% respectively, compared with 35%.

The HPA is recommending safe-sex programmes promoting condom use and annual HIV testing as a priority for this community as well as for men who have sex with men. They want NHS clinicians to take every opportunity to offer testing to those at higher risk.

The total number of people in the UK living with HIV climbs steadily every year because treatment is keeping more people alive. Including both diagnosed and undiagnosed cases, it has now reached 96,000, with a total of 6,280 new diagnoses in 2011.

Nearly half of all new diagnoses were acquired heterosexually. More than half of all new UK infections were acquired while the subject was in Britain, compared with 27% in 2002: the small drop in new infections last year, from 6,400 in 2010 to 6,280 last year, was because of the drop in the number of people who had been infected abroad.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said: “What is striking about the HPA’s data is how it really shows both our successes and our shortcomings in tackling HIV in the UK. On the one hand, we can hail treatment as a real success story. Treatment is effective, people diagnosed with HIV can access it easily and it is working in keeping the virus under control.

“However, when it comes to increasing the uptake of testing – the gateway to treatment – our services are patchy, inconsistent and ultimately we are still failing to make any significant headway in tackling the high rates of undiagnosed HIV.

“A quarter of people living with HIV are unaware they have the virus. As long as this figure remains high, new infections will continue to occur. We must increase our efforts in encouraging people to test and making sure that the health service is taking advantage of every single avenue in offering an opportunity to test – something that isn’t happening at the moment.”

Sir Nick Partridge, the chief executive of the HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, spoke up for safe sex and said that testing could add 40 years to a person’s life. “HIV is an entirely preventable condition, yet each year we see thousands more people across the UK receive this life-changing diagnosis,” he said. “While there is still no cure and no vaccine, that doesn’t mean we need to accept its continuing march.”

Original Story via Sarah Boseley, health editor at The Guardian

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Increase In Life Expectancy for People Living With HIV

People with HIV have a 15 years longer life expectancy thanks to improved treatments over the past 13 years, according to a new study published on the British Medical Journal website.

Researchers found that the life expectancy of these patients improved significantly between 1996 and 2008, and that earlier diagnosis and timely treatment can increase life expectancy.   HIV infection has become a chronic disease with a good prognosis if treatment begins sufficiently early in the course of the disease and the patient sticks to antiretroviral treatment. However life expectancy for people with the disease is lower than that of the general population.

Researchers led by Dr Margaret May of the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine set out to estimate life expectancy of people treated for HIV infection and compare it with that of the UK general population.

They used data from the UK Collaborative HIV Cohort (UK CHIC) study, which in 2001 began collating routine data on HIV positive people attending some of the UK’s largest clinical centres since January 1996.  Patients included in the analysis were aged 20 years and over and started treatment with antiretroviral therapy with at least three drugs between 1996 and 2008.

The researchers studied data on 17,661 patients, of whom 1,248 (7%) died between 1996 and 2008.   Their analysis shows that life expectancy for an average 20-year-old infected with HIV increased from 30 years to almost 46 between the periods 1996-9 and 2006-8.

The findings also show that life expectancy for women treated for HIV is ten years’ higher than for men. During the period 1996 -2008, life expectancy was 40 years for male patients and 50 years for female patients compared with 58 years for men and nearly 62 years for women in the general UK population.   The point at which a person started treatment had an impact on their life expectancy, as the researchers also found that starting antiretroviral therapy later than guidelines suggest, resulted in up to 15 years loss of life.

Doctors use a test to count the number of CD4 cells in one cubic millimetre of blood. A normal CD4 count in a healthy, HIV-negative adult is usually between 600 and 1,200 CD4 cells/mm3.   The researchers found that life expectancy was 38 years, 41 years and 53 years in those starting antiretroviral therapy with CD4 counts less than 100, 100-199 and 200-350/mm3 cells respectively.

The improvement in life expectancy since 1996 was likely to be due to several factors, they say, including a greater proportion of patients with high CD4 counts, better antiretroviral therapy, more effective drugs, and an upward trend in the UK population life expectancy.

They conclude: “Life expectancy in the HIV-positive population has significantly improved in the UK between 1996 and 2008 and we should expect further improvements for patients starting antiretroviral therapy now with improved modern drugs and new guidelines recommending earlier treatment.  There is a need to identify HIV-positive individuals early in the course of disease in order to avoid the very large negative impact that starting antiretroviral therapy at a CD4 count below 200 cells/mm3 has on life expectancy.”

Dr Mark Gompels, lead clinician and co-author, North Bristol NHS Trust, said “These results are very reassuring news for current patients and will be used to counsel those recently found to be HIV-positive.”   In an accompanying editorial, researchers in Boston argue that, although these gains are encouraging, they have not been seen in everyone with HIV.

Nevertheless, this study “serves as an urgent call to increase awareness of the effectiveness of current HIV treatments in patients and providers,” they say. “In turn this should increase rates of routine HIV screening, with timely linkage to care and uninterrupted treatment. As these factors improve, the full benefits of treatment for all HIV infected people can be realised.”

The study also finds that women with HIV could expect to live a decade longer than men with HIV, perhaps because women are tested for HIV during pregnancy and are likely to start treatment earlier.

The data
  • Data on 17,661 patients, of whom 1,248 (7%) died between 1996 and 2008
  • Life expectancy for the average 20-year-old with HIV increased from 30 to almost 46 years between the periods 1996-9 and 2006-8
  • Life expectancy for women treated for HIV was 10 years’ higher than for men
  • Starting anti-retroviral therapy later than guidelines suggest resulted in up to 15 years’ loss of life
Dr. Anthony Fauci explains how advances in treatment research have dramatically increased the life expectancy for those infected with HIV.

The Terrence Higgins Trust says people at risk should get tested now.  Figures suggest more than 80,000 UK are living with HIV, and about 25% are unaware they have the infection however, it’s good news for people with HIV, their families and friends.

Sir Nick Partridge (CEO of THT) said: “It also demonstrates why it’s so much better to know if you have HIV. Late diagnosis and late treatment mean an earlier grave, so if you’ve been at risk for HIV, get tested now.   Of course, it’s not just length of life that’s important, but quality of life too, and having HIV can still severely damage your life’s chances.   While so much has changed 30 years on from the start of the epidemic, condoms continue to be the best way to protect yourself and your partner from HIV in the first place.”

Are you interested in having a HIV test?  We offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test. We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies. We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995

Original Articles via BBC News and the British Medical Journal

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HIV Charities Welcome the Lifting of Lifetime Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood


The Government announced this month that the rules on gay men* donating blood will change from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferral period.  This decision follows a review of the current policies around exclusion and deferral from blood donation by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

NAT (National AIDS Trust) called for a proactive, comprehensive and evidence-based review of the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood – in light of improved testing and screening technologies, and anti-discrimination obligations.  This review was strongly supported by other HIV and LGBT organisations, including Terrence Higgins Trust who had been working with NHS Blood and Transplant, and GMFA, who joined NAT and THT on the advisory group for the review.

Carl Burnell, Chief Executive of GMFA the gay men’s health charity, comments:

‘The removal of the ban to a one year deferral is great news but it’s going to leave some gay men frustrated that they still can’t donate blood. However the one year deferral is based on scientific evidence to ensure the safety of the blood supply in relation to hepatitis B and HIV. Gay men can play their part in ensuring the UK has a safe supply of blood for everyone, including gay men, by adhering to the one year deferral.

It will be news to most that hepatitis B, rather than HIV has kept the deferral period to one year. Hepatitis B is completely preventable if you get vaccinated against it, and I’d urge all gay men to do so. If all gay men get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, and prevalence of hepatitis B falls in our community as a result, it would be appropriate to re-examine the evidence and reduce the deferral period even further.’

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:

‘The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood has been at the centre of much controversy and debate in recent years, particularly as it became clear that this rule and current science were completely out of sync.  NAT was instrumental in securing a proactive, time-based review of the present lifetime bans on blood donation and we are delighted to see the review’s recommendations for change being implemented.  This decision is now based on evidence and the safety of the blood supply will be maintained.  However, we are adamant that this decision will need to be reviewed again in the future as science and the HIV epidemic evolves, and new evidence emerges.   We must ensure that changes in these areas are proactively monitored so that we avoid having out-dated rules in place that do not benefit the public and instead simply discriminate against certain groups.’

Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), comments:

‘We welcome this decision, which is based on strong new evidence that all the experts are agreed on. These regulations will ensure the safety of the blood supply for all of us while also being fair and equal in their application. We can now detect blood-borne viruses earlier and have more understanding of them, and the change reflects that.

‘The remaining deferral regulation for sexually active gay men is based on their heightened risk, as a group, of sexually acquired blood-borne viruses. Changing that depends on reducing gay men’s risk of HIV and other STIs to the same level as the rest of the population, and re-emphasising the vital importance of safer sex as far too many gay men still become infected with HIV each year. We will continue to campaign to improve gay men’s sexual health to a level where the regulations can be the same for all, regardless of sexuality.’

Currently, men who have ever had oral or anal sex with another man (with or without a condom) are permanently excluded from blood donation in the UK. The change means that in future only men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past 12 months (with or without a condom) will be asked not to donate blood. Men whose last relevant sexual contact with another man was more than 12 months ago will be able to donate (subject to meeting the other donor selection criteria).

The safety of the blood supply has been at the heart of SaBTO’s review, and the conclusion that safety levels will be maintained following the rule change is supported by the most up-to-date scientific evidence.  Blood donor selection criteria and other safety measures such as stringent testing mean the UK blood supply is among the safest in the world.  There has been no documented transmission of a blood-borne virus through blood transfusions in the UK since 2005, with no HIV transmission since 2002.

The lifting of the permanent ban on gay men donating blood and replacement with a 12 month deferral period not only aligns the new rule with current science and evidence, it also takes into account equality laws which do not allow discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Any difference in treatment of gay men must be a balanced response based on evidence and appropriate assessment of risk.

The 12 month deferral period takes into account the elevated levels of blood-borne viruses amongst gay men and the ‘window periods’ where viruses go undetected during screening.  HIV can be detected four weeks after infection but hepatitis B takes significantly longer, and then has a second window period in the later stages of infection (up to 12 months) which is why there must be a deferral period of one year for those most at risk of transmitting the viruses.
Whilst we are pleased to welcome this rule change for gay men, we will continue to encourage SaBTO to regularly review their restrictions on blood donation related to sexual behaviour (including other groups in addition to gay men).  Particularly as the epidemics around blood-borne viruses evolve and scientific evidence changes and advances.

* References to gay men include men who have ever had anal or oral sex with men but do not consider themselves gay or bisexual.

Original Article via National AIDS Trust

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