Anyone exhausted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic or the 2020 Election, take heart: a new study based in the UK has revealed that infection rates of HIV are at their lowest since 1998.
The new data, released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that there were 1,700 new infections in 2019. That number marks a steep decline from 2011, when the UK health organization charted 2,700 new infections.
The Gay UK reports that public health officials have linked the drop in cases to the availability of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP. The treatment involves a daily regimen of anti-HIV drugs and regular STI screening with the aim of eliminating HIV transmission. The nation began prescribing prep in 2017 to patients who enrolled in studies designed to test the treatment efficacy. Earlier this year, the country’s National Health Service rolled out wide availability of the anti-HIV treatment, free to patients without any out-of-pocket cost.
“In the UK, we have made great progress towards eliminating HIV transmission by 2030,” Dr. Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV Surveillance at Public Health England, said of the study results. “Frequent HIV testing, the offer of PrEP among those most at risk of HIV, together with prompt treatment among those diagnosed, remain key to ending HIV transmission by 2030. Further progress can only be achieved if we also address the inequalities in reducing HIV transmission that exist around sexuality, ethnicity and geography.”
Use and availability of PrEP have risen dramatically over the past decade, both in Europe and the United States. The drug regimen boasts 99.9% efficacy in preventing the transmission of HIV–much higher than the use of condoms alone. Cost and availability of anti-HIV drugs, particularly in the US, remain a hurdle for patients, particularly within communities of color.