Worrying increase in new cases of HIV in Lancashire

New Public Health England figures reveal 56 people were diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus in Lancashire during 2018
New Public Health England figures reveal 56 people were diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus in Lancashire during 2018

New diagnoses of HIV in Lancashire have risen over the last year – while numbers have declined nationally.

Campaigners have welcomed the continuing fall in HIV infection rates across the UK, but said a slowing pace of progress showed more needed to be done to eradicate the disease.

New Public Health England figures reveal 56 people were diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus in Lancashire during 2018 – 5.6 cases in every 100,000 people aged 15 and over.

This was a rise compared to the previous year, when there were 4.2 cases per 100,000 people , but still lower than the rate of 6.5 in 2014.

There is still no cure for HIV, which damages the body’s immune system and weakens its ability to fight off other infections and illnesses.

It is passed from person to person through body fluids such as semen or blood, and is most commonly caught by having unprotected sex.

Despite the rise in cases, Lancashire still falls below the national average, with 8.8 new cases per 100,000 people across England.

Across the UK, diagnoses of the virus – which can cause sufferers to develop the life-threatening illness AIDS – fell by 28 per cent between 2015 and 2018, from 6,271 to 4,484.

Ian Green, chief executive of HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the news, but warned the Government needs to do more if it is to meet its target of ending HIV infection by 2030.

“We have the necessary tools to end transmissions but we need to maximise these across all groups affected by HIV right across the UK to ensure that no one is left behind,” he said.

“The medical progress in the fight against HIV has been incredible but stigma remains a huge barrier.

“In order to continue progress, HIV must be prioritised as a public health issue because more of the same won’t cut it.

“We also need to invest in sexual health services across the country to make sure they are properly funded to meet rising demand.”

Public Health England has put the trend down to better prevention, including testing and condom provision, as well as the use of drugs which prevent those infected from passing the virus on.

However, it said too many cases were still diagnosed at a late stage of infection, when the risk of death within a year is 10 times higher.

In Lancashire, 48 per cent of diagnoses between 2016 and 2018 were made at the late stage, compared to 42.5 per cent across England.

A total of 17,567 people were tested for HIV after accessing sexual health services in the area in 2018 – 66% of attendees.

London has the highest rate of HIV infection in England, with 20.9 diagnoses per 100,000 people, while the North East had the lowest, with just 4.8.

The HIV capital of England is the London Borough of Lambeth, where 135 people were diagnosed with the virus in 2018 – 49.6 cases per 100,000 people.

Public health minister Jo Churchill said she was “delighted” with the latest figures, but would not be complacent in working to rid the country of the disease

She said: “This decline in diagnoses is a result of our unwavering commitment to prevention which has led to more people getting tested, and has allowed people with HIV to benefit from effective treatment, stopping the virus from spreading further.

“However, I am not complacent and remain dedicated to ensuring we reach our target of zero new HIV transmissions by 2030.”