The transmission of HIV has fallen by more than 70% in six years among gay and bisexual men according to a report from Public Health England (PHE) hailing the success of HIV testing in the UK.

There were 800 HIV transmissions in the UK in 2018 among gay and bisexual men – defined in the report as gay, bisexual and other cis or trans men who have sex with men – down from 2,800 in 2012.

These numbers reflect general falls in new HIV diagnoses and incidence in the UK among all people, with new diagnoses down from 6,278 in 2014 to 4,453 in 2018.

PHE welcomed these falls as a step toward its goal of eliminating HIV transmission in England by 2030.

In 2018, the Superdrug pharmacy chain became the first high-street retailer to stock a testing kit for the disease.

Prevention is key

An estimated 103,800 people in the UK lived with HIV in 2018, close to 50,000 of whom were gay and bisexual men. The next most vulnerable group were black African women, with an estimated 18,500 living with HIV.

PHE said a wider use of prevention activities - such as the use of condoms, HIV testing in more settings, starting antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible and the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis – across the UK is proving successful.

However, 7,500 people in the UK are still estimated to be living with undiagnosed HIV, and two in five of those diagnosed in 2018 were diagnosed at a late stage, which has a tenfold increased risk of death in the year following diagnosis.

Dr Noel Gill, head of STI and HIV at PHE, said: 'We are well on our way to reaching the goal of eliminating HIV transmission by 2030, with rapid fall in HIV transmission continuing in 2018, and nearly all of those diagnosed receiving treatment that prevents onward transmission.

'Testing is a key part of the UK’s success. If you have HIV, you can benefit from life-saving treatments that also prevent further transmission of the virus.'

He added: 'Certain groups of people are at higher HIV risk and are advised to have regular test, including men and women who have unprotected sex with new or casual partners from countries where HIV is common, who should test every year, and men who have sex with men.'