Undiagnosed HIV figures remain at alarming level

Gary Hart December 1, 2015

New figures of undiagnosed HIV remain at an alarming high level as National HIV Testing Week starts.


National HIV Testing Week (NHTW): started on Saturday, November 21, and includes outdoor and tram advertising across Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Brighton, Newcastle, Sheffield and Bristol.

New figures released by Public Health England (PHE) reveal there are 18,100 people living with HIV in the UK who do not know they are HIV positive, compared to 18,219 last year – a drop of a mere 100.

6,151 people were newly diagnosed in the UK in 2014. This figure was 6,032 in 2013 and 6,353 in 2010 (7,893 in 2005), 75% of new diagnoses were in men, 25 per cent in women.

Figures released during NHTW show the national rates of undiagnosed HIV as:

♦       MSM 14 per cent of MSM living with HIV are undiagnosed

♦       Black African heterosexuals 16% in men and 12% in women

♦        All Heterosexuals 21% unaware of their diagnosis (1 in 5 PLHIV unaware of their status)

Shaun Griffin
Shaun Griffin

Shaun Griffin, Executive Director of External Affairs, THT, said: “The recent media maelstrom around HIV could have been really damaging for the 18,100 who have HIV and don’t know it. Such a damning portrayal perpetuates stigma and could actually deter people from accessing testing, treatment, and support.

“As National HIV Testing Week approaches we urge everyone to get tested. If we are going to reduce the number of people who have HIV, we need the number of people diagnosed to further increase. HIV treatment is now immediately available when diagnosed and once treatment is taken correctly, patients are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus can no longer be passed on. Testing is key to prevention.”

Dr Christian Jessen
Dr Christian Jessen

National HIV Testing Week Ambassador Dr Christian Jessen, said: “I am proud to be the National HIV Testing Week Ambassador. Testing for HIV is crucial for prevention.

“The fact that diagnoses have increased is encouraging in one sense. If you get tested and receive a positive diagnosis, you can now immediately go onto treatment, and if you are on medication you are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus cannot be passed on.

“Most concerning to me is the fact that nearly one in six people with HIV do not realise they have it, so they are putting their own health at risk and HIV could unknowingly be passed on.”

Undiagnosed infection is widely recognised as a key factor driving the UK’s HIV epidemic.

Heterosexual sex continues to be the main transmission route for people of black African and black Caribbean ethnicity – according to Public Health England 42 per cent of all new HIV diagnoses acquired heterosexually were among people of black African ethnicity.

The number of new people who are being diagnosed late is still unacceptably high:

♦    40 per cent of people newly diagnosed in 2014 were diagnosed late (CD4 count below 350) – this equates to 1,975 people. This was 50 per cent  in 2010 and 41 per cent in 2013.

♦    This is 65 per cent in people who inject drugs, 61 per cent  in heterosexual men, and 58 per cent in black African people

HIV treatment lowers the amount of HIV in the body to undetectable levels. Global research, has found that HIV cannot be passed on when the virus is undetectable. In other words, if someone is on effective HIV treatment, it is extremely unlikely HIV will be passed on. It means that if everyone with HIV were on effective treatment, we could finally stop the spread of HIV. Until then, it is essential to use condoms to protect yourself from HIV.

James Carey
James Carey

Cary James, Head of Health Promotion, Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The new figures show how important National HIV Testing Week is. If people with HIV go undiagnosed they are at risk of damaging their health and unknowingly passing on the virus.

“We need to take every opportunity to remind gay men to get tested at least once a year and more often if they are changing partners often or have been at risk.”

Simon Dowe
Simon Dowe

Simon Dowe, Chief Executive at The Sussex Beacon, added: “Even though we are seeing a decline in the number of undiagnosed infections, the rates of ongoing transmission remain high. Ensuring that people have access to HIV tests, PrEP and HIV medicines is essential in stopping the spread of the virus. Year on year we have seen an increase in the number of people living with HIV highlighting the need for effective prevention programmes to ensure that people most at risk of HIV receive the information and advice on how to stay negative”.