Philip Baldwin © M J Chapman

By Philip Baldwin © M J Chapman

As Fyne Times readers may know I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2010, when I was 24 years old. It is now approaching eight years since my diagnosis. Next year I will turn 34, which is also the median age at which gay and bisexual men are diagnosed with HIV in the UK.  A lot has changed since my diagnosis, in terms of approaches to prevention and treatment for HIV, as well as personally. I would not be the outspoken writer and activist that I am today had it not been for my HIV.

I was really excited by data, released by Public Health England in September, which showed that across the UK new HIV diagnoses decreased from 5,280 in 2016 to 4,363 in 2017. This is a drop of 17% and is the second year in a row that HIV diagnoses have fallen. In 2015 diagnoses stood at 6,095. We can now say that diagnoses have fallen by an incredible 28% since 2015.

At 31%, the fall in new HIV diagnoses was even more marked amongst gay and bisexual men. This decrease was due to increased testing, including repeat testing, the earlier uptake of antiretroviral drugs, which keep the level of HIV in the blood low and prevent it being passed on, as well as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

PrEP is a course of HIV medication taken by an HIV negative person which is almost 100% effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. PrEP first started to emerge in the USA around 2014 and was unknown when I was diagnosed in 2010.

‘Give HIV the Finger’ photographs by Thomas Knights

‘Give HIV the Finger’ photographs by Thomas Knights

Whilst new HIV diagnoses are falling, it remains the case that two-fifths of people diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed late, meaning that the immune system may be damaged. If you are a gay or bisexual man in the UK it is recommended that you get an HIV test once a year, or every three months if you’re having unprotected sex with new or casual partners. The earlier an HIV positive person is diagnosed the better, so that they can get the treatment they need and stay healthy.

This year HIV Testing Week starts on Saturday 17 November and I would encourage everyone to get testing. My story with HIV was ultimately a happy one, but it is a challenge that I would like as few gay and bisexual men in the UK to have to face as possible.

 Follow Philip’s journey on Twitter at: @philipcbaldwin

HIV Prevention England (HPE) is the national HIV prevention programme for England. It is part of Terrence Higgins Trust and funded by Public Health England. National HIV Testing Week (17-23 November) promotes HIV testing to gay and bisexual men and black African men and women. The week is co-ordinated by HPE.

 

tht.org.uk | hivpreventionengland.org.uk

 

World AIDS Day | 1 December | worldaidsday.org

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