Blackpool HIV cases are decreasing as more take tests
The rate of new HIV diagnoses in Blackpool is decreasing, with charities citing strong prevention strategies and an increase in testing.
The National Aids Trust said the figures showed the HIV epidemic is slowing, however warned “cuts to HIV prevention expenditure must be reversed if we are to avoid progress stalling”.
The latest Public Health England data shows there were 13 new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 people aged 15 and over in Blackpool in 2017.
That’s down from 19 new diagnoses per 100,000 the year before.
Over that time period HIV testing in Blackpool has increased.
In 2017, 72% of eligible patients attending a sexual health clinic had an HIV test, compared with 65% in 2016. Men were much more likely to accept a test than women.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, damages the immune system and weakens the ability to fight everyday infections.
This can lead to a person getting Aids, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is the name for a collection of potentially life-threatening illnesses which occur after your immune system has been damaged by HIV.
Aids cannot be transmitted from one person to another, however HIV can. You cannot contract Aids without HIV.
Across England, the new diagnosis rate has steadily reduced, from 12.9 in 2012 to 8.7 last year.
Debbie Laycock, head of policy at HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the drop in new HIV diagnoses showed “the progress we’re making”.
“This has been achieved through determined activism and by effectively utilising everything at our disposal in the fight against HIV, including access to condoms, regular testing and HIV prevention pill PrEP,” she explained.
Ms Laycock pointed to the 31% decline in new diagnoses since 2015 among gay and bisexual men as particularly important.
“To see this level of progress across all groups right across the country, we need to look closely at who is still being diagnosed and what we can do better to target those groups.”
While new HIV diagnoses are going down in Blackpool, HIV prevalence is increasing.
In 2011, when this data was first recorded, there were 355 people per 100,000 who were HIV positive. That figure rose to 407 last year.
The Terrence Higgins Trust said it was hard to judge the significance of this, as better quality treatment means HIV positive people are living far longer lives than previously.
Ms Laycock explained: “This increase is predominantly a result of the amazing treatment we now have to effectively manage HIV, which is something that seemed a distant prospect at the start of the epidemic.”
In many people HIV has been reduced to an undetectable level, so they cannot pass it on.
Blackpool’s HIV prevalence is above the average for the North West, which is 185 per 100,000 people.
Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, said the figures showed “we are well on our way to eradicating” HIV, but he warned against complacency.
He continued: “Our commitment to prevention has led to more people getting tested and almost every person with a diagnosis is now in treatment – meaning they are unlikely to pass the virus on to someone else.
“I am committed to ensuring that we deliver on our promise to reduce the number of people contracting HIV even further.”