30 years on from the death of Terry Higgins (4th July 1982), the first person in the UK to be publicly identified as dying with AIDS, the charity founded in his name today sets out a call to action through which the UK could slash new HIV infections within the next 10 years.

With 100,000 people now living with HIV in the UK, and the scientific consensus that there may not be a workable cure for decades, HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is calling on the whole country to protect their own and future generations by placing a renewed effort on preventing the spread of infection. New HIV diagnoses continue at the rate of just over 6,000 each year, but the charity estimates this could be dramatically reduced within a decade if the UK were to:

  1. Expand testing services and reduce high rates of undiagnosed HIV. In the UK, one in four people with HIV remains undiagnosed, causing most new infections. People who are undiagnosed are far more likely to transmit the virus than those who know they have HIV. Encouraging more people to get tested regularly (both for HIV and STIs) is key to halting the spread of the epidemic.
  2. Encourage greater personal responsibility for condom use. From the start of the epidemic, the UK has led the way in promoting safer sex. Since 2000, continued condom use in this country has prevented an extra 80,000 people contracting HIV¹. Sustained condom use remains the best way people can protect themselves and their partners from HIV. More safer sex promotion will continue to reduce sexual risk taking.
  3. Ensure everyone diagnosed is on timely treatment. Modern antiretroviral drugs are so effective that someone on treatment is far less infectious than someone who isn’t. Getting someone onto medication in good time will not just benefit their own health; it also vastly lowers the risk of the virus being passed on.
  4. Reduce stigma around HIV. The high levels of stigma around HIV discourage people from coming forward for testing or from telling a new partner about their status. Fostering greater public understanding of life with HIV will help to break down those barriers, which will in turn lower transmission rates.

Quotes

Sir Nick Partridge, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Terry’s death 30 years ago inspired our fight to improve the nation’s sexual health. While there’s still no cure or vaccine for HIV, that doesn’t mean we have to accept its continuing march.

“Scientific advances over the last three decades, coupled with the strength of our health service have put the UK in pole position for preventing the spread of HIV. To be a world leader in this area we need four key things to happen, all of which are entirely within reach. It isn’t a complicated solution, but it does require renewed commitment from all of us – from the Government, NHS and local authorities, businesses, community groups and every one of us – to make it work. Whether your own life has been touched by the epidemic in the last 30 years or not, halting the spread now can only help our children, and their children, put an end to HIV for good.”

Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV Surveillance at the Health Protection Agency, said: “Access to HIV treatment and care is excellent in this country. With a concerted focus on condoms, testing, treatment and reducing risk, everything is there to eliminate HIV transmission. How fast we achieve this depends on our collective efforts. It is within our grasp to change the course of HIV.”

Lord Norman Fowler, former Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and political force behind 1987’s Don’t Die of Ignorance AIDS awareness campaign, said: “The human and economic benefits of successfully combating the HIV epidemic in this country would be vast. In financial terms it would save the NHS over £1billion a year if we could cut new infections by half. A new priority now needs to be given to prevention.”

View Terrence Higgins Trust’s strategy document Tackling the spread of HIV in the UK.

The UK epidemic in numbers

  • 100,000 people living with HIV, one in four of whom are undiagnosed
  • 6,000 – 7,000 new infections each year
  • 500 – 600 still die with HIV each year
  • 20,000 have died with AIDS since 1982
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