New cases of HIV in the UK are at their lowest level since 2000

New diagnoses of HIV in the UK have fallen to their lowest level since 2000.

Public Health England (PHE) attributed the decline to the success of preventative measures such as condom provision, with the number of people newly diagnosed down 28% from 6,271 in 2015 to 4,484 in 2018.

However, almost half of those (43%) were at a late stage of infection – increasing their risk of dying prematurely.

Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at PHE, said she hoped to see more early diagnoses in the years ahead, saying it “has never been easier” to get tested for the virus.

Tests are available at GP surgeries, local hospitals, sexual health clinics and via home kits.

PHE said other effective measures include more use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is taken by HIV-negative people before sex, and antiretroviral therapy.

The latter sees drugs used to keep the level of the virus in the body low and stop it from being passed on.

Figures show that the biggest falls in new diagnoses have been among gay and bisexual men, especially those who are white, aged between 15 and 24, and live in London.

New diagnoses also fell by 24% among people who got HIV through heterosexual contact.

While the declines have been welcomed by public health minister Jo Churchill, she said the government would not be complacent as it works towards a target of no new HIV transmissions by 2030.

The Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that campaigns and provides services relating to HIV and sexual health, said wider access to PrEP would be key to meeting that ambition.

At the moment the drug is on a three-year trial due to end in 2020 and has recruited more than 13,000 participants.

Ian Green, chief executive at the trust, said PrEP should become “part of routine sexual health services”.

The drug, which is taken daily or around the time of sexual activity is almost 100% effective at preventing HIV when taken as prescribed.