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Concern grows over late HIV diagnoses

A quarter of people living with HIV are unaware of their condition, research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) shows.

The HIV in the UK report found new diagnoses among men who have sex with men reached an all-time high in 2011 (3,010) - almost one in 12 gay men in London and one in 20 in the UK now has HIV (47 per 1,000).

According to HPA figures there were 6,280 new HIV diagnoses in 2011, taking the total number of people living with HIV in the UK to around 96,000.

Nearly half (48%) of all new diagnoses were acquired heterosexually and the black African community remained at higher HIV risk in 2011 with 37 per 1,000 living with the infection.

Dr Valerie Delpech, HPA head of HIV surveillance, said: “These figures are a reminder of how vital safe sex programmes remain. Promoting HIV testing and condom use is crucial to tackling the high rates of transmission, late diagnosis and undiagnosed HIV still seen in the UK. We also encourage clinicians to take every opportunity to offer the test to those in higher risk groups and, in high prevalence areas, to all general medical admission and new GP registrants.”

Late diagnosis

BHIVA (British HIV Association expressed “deep concern” over the continued late diagnosis of people living with HIV.

Data shows although late HIV diagnoses dropped slightly in 2011 (50%), it still remains high at 47%.

Professor Jane Anderson, chair of the BHIVA warned people with HIV are at risk of “falling through the gap” as the bodies responsible for HIV commissioning and prevention in the new NHS systems "find their feet".

“The high rate of HIV infection amongst heterosexuals, as well as the persistent trend of late diagnosis is particularly worrying,” she said.

“Many people are simply not being signposted to take an HIV test. With a general lack of routine HIV testing being commissioned for general medical admissions and in the general practice setting this is not altogether surprising.  We need a greater emphasis on HIV testing and on all aspects of prevention. 

“With successful treatment, a person with HIV in the UK can expect a near-normal lifespan. But for that to happen, early diagnosis is vital. Too many people only get tested when their HIV infection is already at an advanced stage, compromising both their own health and that of their partners.”