New figures released by Public Health England (PHE) show 18,100 people unaware they have HIV.
Ahead of National HIV Testing week, which starts on November 21, 2015, the government are making available free HIV kits for testing those at higher-risk of infection, alongside announcing new funding for innovative HIV prevention projects.
People at higher-risk of HIV infection across the country (gay and other men who have sex with men and black Africans) can now order an HIV home-sampling test kit online, free of charge and are being encouraged to take the simple finger prick blood sample for National HIV Testing Week.
Improved treatment for HIV means those diagnosed early can have a life expectancy almost matching that of people who are HIV free.
PHE figures show an estimated 103,700 people in the UK were living with HIV in 2014, with around 17% (18,100) unaware and at risk of unknowingly passing on the virus to others.
Among men who have sex with men (MSM), 6,500 remain unaware of their HIV infection, as do a further 3,900 men and women from black African communities.
In addition, there continues to be high levels of transmission in MSM and 3,360 MSM were newly diagnosed in 2014 – the largest number ever recorded.
Overall, 40% of people were diagnosed at a late stage of infection, undermining the benefits of effective therapy, and demonstrating the need for expanded testing.
The benefits of testing leading to early treatment, reach beyond the individual person, having a wider public health benefit, and reduce the risk of passing the virus on to other people.
In addition to home-sampling, the Government and PHE have announced seven successful HIV innovation winners – to help turn the tide on high rates of new HIV infection in England.
The HIV Innovation Fund is supporting creative prevention projects, including working with faith leaders, developing assessment tools and targeted HIV testing initiatives.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, said: “We have made great strides in HIV treatment, and those people speaking out about their condition are helping reduce the stigma around it. But until HIV is a thing of the past, there is more to do and we need to be bold.
“I want the launch of the first National HIV Home Sampling service to encourage people at risk to find out their HIV status, using our free kits, so they can get the best care for themselves and partners. Our Innovation Fund is also identifying new ideas to tackle the problem. I hope that all those at risk will take the opportunity to get tested and help us halve new HIV infections by 2020.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE, said: “Despite national rates of HIV declining, it is still a growing problem within certain communities and levels of HIV testing among high risk people remain too low. The HIV home-sampling service and the HIV Innovation Fund help boost the ongoing efforts to reduce HIV infection in England.
“With National HIV Testing Week approaching, I would encourage all those at higher-risk of HIV, such as men who have sex with men or people from black African communities, to seriously consider testing, especially as they are now able to order a home-sampling kit free online.”
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community Wellbeing spokesperson, added: “HIV testing is key to prevention. Evidence shows that earlier diagnosis can not only benefit personal health, but has massive public health benefits too, while saving significant sums of money for the NHS and local services.
“Councils now have responsibility for public health and commissioning sexual health services. HIV testing and outreach services are a part of this, whether in GP practices, sexual health clinics or in community settings.”
To order a free Kit online, click here: