(Words: Jamie Tabberer)
Over 12.5k people have signed up for free NHS PrEP at 56 Dean Street since August, it has been announced.
The London sexual health clinic has shared the data with Attitude ahead of World AIDS Day tomorrow (Tuesday 1 December 2020).
The news coincides with changing sexual trends over the coronavirus-induced lockdowns in 2020, and falling infection rates both nationally and in London.
Commenting, Dean St’s Lead Clinician Dr Alan McOwan called the 12.5k figure is “amazing news - but it could go either way. Everyone needs to keep their foot on the accelerator.”
"It is estimated that there are only 1,000 undiagnosed people left in London"
“2020 has been an amazing opportunity for us to finally beat HIV," Dr McOwan tells us. “Lockdown, for a period of time, changed some people’s sexual behaviour. That gave us a chance to get people to test online and try and reduce the number of undiagnosed people.
“Public Health England (PHE) recently estimated that there are only 2,900 [men who have sex with men] with undiagnosed HIV in England. In London, the testing initiatives have been even better, so within the M25, there are only 1,000 undiagnosed people left.
“If we can find those remaining people and get them onto treatment, you’ve kind of won really, because they become non-infectious."
Routine commissioning, or general access to free PrEP began in October 2020; with some clinics rolling access out later in the year.
“There’s this big aim to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030, a World Health Organisation target," adds Dr McOwan. "PHE were actually modelling, if things carry on the way they have been since 2019, that it looks like HIV in [men who have sex with men] was on target to be eliminated by 2025.
“We’ve had lockdown, ramped up the testing, started treatment, and obviously NHS PrEP means we can give it to everyone who needs it. So I’ve just pulled the figures and we’re just approaching starting our 12,500th person on NHS PrEP since 3 August.”
Last month, we reported how HIV and AIDS diagnoses in gay and bisexual men were at a 20-year low.
However, Dr McOwan last week warned Attitude of a rising trend in new HIV diagnoses among those taking a "break" from PrEP, emphasising the simple message that, for protection from anal sex, you need to take two PrEP pills at least two hours before, then continue one around the same time each day.