What We Can Learn From The Declining HIV Rates In The UK

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of HIV infections in the UK fell by 21% amongst men who have sex with other men. According to the report from Public Health England, the decline "represents the most exciting development in the UK HIV epidemic in 20 years."
The declining rate, the report says, is in large part due to higher access to PrEP, an HIV-prevention drug.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a combination of two HIV medicines that is approved for daily use to prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV from a sexual partner who is HIV-positive. PrEP, sold under the name Truvada, has been shown to be extremely effective when taken consistently and used as prescribed.
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PrEP, of course, is a life-changing drug for those who can access it — but access isn't always as easy as it should be. Earlier this year, United Healthcare one of the largest medical insurance companies in the U.S., apologized after appearing to deny access to the drug to a gay man, citing "high risk homosexual behavior."
In addition to PrEP access, Public Health England's report says that the decline is also due to higher access to sexual health clinics as well as repeat testing amongst those who are at higher risk. The results, the report says, show that combination prevention is working.
A CDC report from last month found that STI rates are at an all-time high — though that report focused on gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, it indicated that unreported rates of HIV may also be rising.
So what can we learn from the UK's statistics?
"The new figures out today show that NHS [National Health Service] investment in HIV prevention is paying off," an NHS spokesperson told Pink News. "High rates of effective treatment in people with diagnosed HIV, our Treatment as Prevention policy which ensures that people receive treatment to protect HIV negative partners and our major intervention with PrEP, which will be up and running by the end of this month, will supercharge these increasingly successful efforts to prevent HIV."
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