More gay men are infected with HIV than ever in the UK as it is revealed one in five people visiting an STI clinic shun the test.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has called for universal testing for HIV following a report showing the number of people living with the disease reached an estimated 91,500 in 2010 in the UK.
A quarter of which are reported to be unaware of their infection.
Furthermore, over half of the people diagnosed with HIV in 2010 came forward for testing after the point at which treatment should “ideally” have begun.
In areas where HIV risk is high, the HPA recommends there should be universal testing in all new GP registrants to reduce late diagnosis.
“We want to see increased access to HIV testing routinely offered in clinical settings such as new registrants at GPs and hospital general admissions, in areas of the country where rates of HIV infection are high,” said Dr Valerie Delpech, Consultant Epidemiologist and Health of HIV Surveillance at the HPA.
“We are also urging sexual health clinics to ensure that HIV testing is offered as part of a universal sexual health screen at every new attendance.
“Research by the HPA has shown that routine and universal testing is feasible to undertake and acceptable to patients. Increased testing and greater access will help reduce the number of people who are unaware of their HIV status and increase the chances of early diagnosis, when treatment is more successful.”
The steep rise in HIV diagnoses during the last decade from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,640 in 2010 has been attributed to infections acquired by gay men.
Over 3,000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV – the highest-ever annual number – amounting to half the total number of people newly-diagnosed with the disease last year.
One in 20 gay men are now infected with the disease nationally with 1 in 12 in London.
Professor Jane Anderson, Chairman, British HIC Association (BHIVA) said it is “shocking” and “disheartening” that one-fifth of people refuse HIV tests in STI clinics.
“The information in the HPA report highlights the rising rates of HIV infection amongst gay men in the UK at a time when HIV is falling off the publics’ radar and politicians’ agenda,” said Professor Anderson.
“The high rate of recent infection, particularly amongst younger men, underscores the urgent need for improved prevention and earlier testing.
“Health care providers and the public must not become complacent in the face of this infection; we must prioritise HIV testing and prompt clinical care for those diagnosed positive If we are to get on top of this epidemic.”