CAMBRIDGE, February 4, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Despite a substantial increase in HIV testing at sexually transmitted infection clinics in the UK, there has been no decline in HIV incidence among homosexuals in England and Wales, according to a new study.

The study, carried out by researchers from the UK Medical Research Council's Biostatistics Unit, examined whether increases in testing rates and antiretroviral therapy coverage corresponded to the control of HIV transmission in the UK's population of men who have sex with men (MSM) since 2001. 

They found that despite an almost four-fold expansion in HIV testing in MSM (16,000 homosexual men in 2001 to 59,300 in 2010), a reduction in the average time-to-diagnosis interval from 4 years to 3.2 years, and an increase in antiretroviral therapy from 69% in 2001 to 80% in 2010, neither HIV incidence (2300—2500 annual infections) nor the estimated number of undiagnosed HIV infections changed throughout the decade.

"Our findings highlight the limited effect of the national HIV strategy which aimed to reduce transmission by increasing the uptake of HIV testing in STI clinics, and suggest that high antiretroviral treatment (ART) coverage alone may not be enough to halt the spread of HIV among MSM", said lead investigator Dr. Daniela De Angelis of Cambridge University.

Dr. De Angelis suggested that the continuing high level of HIV transmission in MSM is due to an increase in "unsafe sexual practices because of treatment optimism."

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She recommended that, "improved frequency and targeting of HIV testing, as well as the introduction of ART (antiretroviral therapy) [earlier] than is currently recommended, could begin a decline in HIV transmission among MSM in England and Wales." 

While this study, published online in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, indicates HIV infections among MSM had flatlined between 2001 and 2010, a report on HIV infection from the UK’s Health Protection Agency stated that new diagnoses among men who have sex with men reached an all-time high in 2011, with 3,010 new cases.

The report, which was published in November 2012, said a “worrying” trend has developed since 2007, with rates of new HIV infections rising rapidly among homosexual men: nearly one in 12 male homosexuals in London now has HIV. In the rest of the nation, one in 20 homosexual men is HIV-positive.

The Health Protection Agency offers the usual advice of “safer sex,” that is, use of condoms, to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, but adds that higher risk groups (homosexual men) should “avoid overlapping sexual relationships and reduce the number of sexual partners.”

Related:

HIV diagnoses in UK homosexual men at all-time high