In 2014, 3,360 gay & bisexual men were newly diagnosed with HIV. Gay and bisexual men probably account for less than 3% of the population but we now make up more than 45% of those accessing HIV care and the majority (54%) of the new HIV diagnoses. With all of the HIV prevention tools that we now have at our disposal this remains unacceptably high.

The news is not all bad: 91% of those living with diagnosed HIV are on treatment, and 95% of these have a viral load less than 200 copies, which means that they are likely to have a normal life-expectancy and are unlikely to pass the virus on to their sexual partners. On both of these measures the UK is ahead of the UNAIDS targets of 90%. Uptake of testing among gay men continues to improve and, as a result, gay men tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage of infection, meaning that they are less likely to progress to AIDS.

But it is not just the increased uptake of HIV testing that is contributing to the high numbers of gay and bisexual men being diagnosed. Sexual behaviour and ongoing risk continues to drive the epidemic. Although the increase upon the previous year’s figure (3,250) is not dramatic we have no cause for complacency. HIV, and the stigma that too often goes with a positive diagnosis, remains a major health concern for gay men. 

If we are going to prevent a similar story being told in future years we need to see HIV prevention activity that addresses the full diversity of need: the young gay man who may have poor HIV knowledge or trouble negotiating safety; the guy with low self-esteem; the guy who’s enjoying his weekends off his tits at chem sex parties; the guys who are living with HIV, who have a crucial role in preventing new infections. And that’s not even mentioning African and Caribbean communities (gay or not) who have different needs and higher prevalence, or the trans men and women who also carry a disproportionate burden of HIV.

We need to utilise all of the prevention tools that are now available to us, which includes offering PrEP (taking regular HIV treatment to prevent infections) to those at greatest risk. We need to work harder to ensure that people with HIV are diagnosed early so that they can benefit from treatment that will enable them to live healthy lives and reduce the risk of them passing the virus to their sexual partners. We need to address the issues of emotional wellbeing that make prevention difficult and lay the spectre of HIV related stigma once and for all.

Matthew Hodson,
Chief Executive, GMFA