Public Health England published encouraging figures in September: new HIV diagnoses in the UK are at their lowest level since 2000 and, in 2018, 94% of UK people living with diagnosed HIV and on antiretroviral treatment had an undetectable viral load - so could not pass on HIV.
These figures are a testament to the quality of HIV care and treatment in the UK, but there are a number of challenges that risk the progress which has been made.
Funding: in 2018, the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (a body of professionals working in HIV care) found that 75% of its members reported that cuts to HIV and sexual health funding had affected access to HIV prevention and support services.
Stigma: HIV-related stigma and discrimination prevent many people in the UK from accessing the services they need. Almost half of new HIV diagnoses in the UK in 2018 were at a late stage of infection, increasing the risk of death within a year ten-fold. The ‘UK Stigma Index 2015’ found around 9% of people living with HIV have been excluded from family events because of their HIV status and 20% reported rejection after revealing their HIV status to a partner. A Terrence Higgins Trust survey in 2018 found that almost a third of women living with HIV avoided or delayed attending HIV services due to fear of being discriminated against by healthcare workers
Lack of education: it also seems that knowledge about HIV among the UK public is decreasing. A 2014 NAT survey found only 45% of people could correctly identify how HIV is, and is not, transmitted. An increasing number of people incorrectly believed HIV can be transmitted through kissing.
acet UK is passionate about keeping HIV on the education agenda. However, we have noticed a decrease in teaching on HIV in recent years. We hope that the new statutory guidance for relationships and sex education (RSE) goes some way to reversing this trend as schools will be required to cover HIV as part of their RSE curriculum.
We have a dedicated HIV section in our RSE training course for educators, and encourage the schools we work with to book us to deliver sessions specifically on HIV, alongside other RSE topics. We are also encouraged that many of our Esteem network members are also educating young people about HIV, often using Esteem materials.