England is on course to have eradicated HIV in homosexual men by 2030, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge.
Data shows that the annual number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men in England fell from 2,770 in 2013 to 854 in 2018.
This encouraging trend is reason to believe England will reach the United Nations target of eliminating HIV transmission among “men who have sex with men” by 2030, researchers have said.
Elimination of viral transmission is defined as less than one newly-acquired infection per 10,000 homosexual men annually.
Observing new HIV infections is difficult so scientists from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, alongside Public Health England, made their own method.
It combines cases clocked on the HIV and AIDS Reporting System in England and also takes into account known trends and progression of the disease.
The calculations are published in the journal The Lancet HIV and estimate the peak of HIV infections since 2011 to have been between 2012 and 2013.
But new cases dropped from 2,770 new infections in 2013 to 1,740 in 2015, and a further steadier decrease from 2016, down to 854 in 2018, the last year for which there is data.
Men over 45 were found to be the age group seeing the smallest decline in transmissions, with the drop in cases strongest in people aged 25 to 34.
A key finding of the study is that case numbers were on the decline before PrEP – a medicine for people at risk of HIV which prevents a person from catching the virus – was rolled out widely in 2016.
The researchers credit the pre-PrEP decline to improvements in testing and treatment.
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Senior author, Professor Daniela De Angelis, deputy director of the MRC Biostatistics Unit, said: “This is very good news and suggests that prevention measures adopted in England from 2011 have been effective.
“Together with the rollout of PrEP, England looks on course to meet the goal of zero transmissions by 2030.
“Our study also shows the value of regular estimation of HIV incidence to recognise and respond appropriately to changes in the current downward trend. The challenge now is to achieve these reductions in all groups at risk for HIV acquisition.”
The researchers extrapolated their findings and said there is a 40 per cent chance of England reaching the UN elimination target by 2030.
HIV treatment has improved dramatically since the scourge of the 1980s, and now infected individuals can live symptom-free lives and are unable to pass on the virus thanks to medication.
The hashtags #undetectable and #untransmittable are helping lift the taboo on the virus on social media, as are high-profile cases like Magic Johnson and Charlie Sheen and mainstream TV shows like It’s A Sin.