New rates of HIV infections have dropped dramatically in the United Kingdom, which researchers are attributing to the rise in the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which is nearly 100% effective in preventing transmission of the virus.
New figures released by Public Health England, and reported by the BBC, show gay and bisexual men experiencing the biggest decrease in new infections, with rates plummeting by 71%. That demographic has seen a drop in new HIV transmissions from 2,800 in 2012 to 800 in 2018.
In addition to PrEP, researchers credit increased testing and treatment for the encouraging trend. Some 97% of those who have been diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment, and of those seeking treatment, 97% of them are undetectable and therefore cannot transmit the virus to others.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. was on its way to its stated goal of ending new HIV transmission by 2030.
“HIV has brought untold hurt and suffering to so many, so it is encouraging to see transmissions continue to fall across the U.K.,” Hancock said.
While advocates are also encouraged by the results, they say the government isn’t doing enough to provide access to PrEP and they hope the study will help create change. Those wishing to take the medication have had to sign up to an impact trial began in September 2017, or else acquire it online. The BBC reported in October that at least 15 people had been diagnosed with new HIV infections while waiting to be granted access to the impact study.
“We truly are living in a new era of HIV prevention. Yet, PrEP is still not freely available on the NHS in England and unnecessary HIV infections are happening because of foot-dragging by politicians,” Phil Samba, of the advocacy group Prepster, said. “Today, we make a clear call to Matt Hancock and his colleagues, ’Get a grip and fund a full Prep service now.'”