HIV diagnosis reaches 15-year-high in Wales

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HIV particlesImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
The surveillance report also showed a rise in other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Health experts want more to be done to curb the number of people contracting HIV after figures showed diagnosis in Wales reached a 15-year high.

There were 189 positive tests in 2014, according to newly released figures which relates to data from STI clinics.

Giving out free condoms and prescribing pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep) for those most at risk are among measures suggested to tackle the problem.

Quarterly updates for 2015 indicate diagnoses will fall slightly.

"There's still a lot of stigma and a lot of ignorance out there," said Dr Olwen Williams, a consultant genito-urinary physician at Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

"You need a robust prevention strategy. It's about making sure people have access to information at all stages of life.

Controversial drug

"We target people at certain ages giving them certain information and then forget about them as they get older but they keep on having sex."

Testing for HIV increased by 48% in men and 34% in women between 2012 and 2014, and the rate of new HIV diagnoses increased by 65% in males and 37% in females.

Media caption,

Dr Olwen Williams outlines some of the possible reasons behind the increase

Dr Williams, who was one of the authors of the HIV and STI trends in Wales surveillance report which presented the figures, said the highest rise was among gay men.

She said there were a number of reasons for the rise including increased testing, individuals bringing their partner for screening and those who have had HIV for years but only recently started showing symptoms.

But she also joined the calls for the Prep drug, which can prevent HIV, to be introduced.

It has been at the centre of a High Court battle with campaigners winning the fight for the drug to be available on the NHS in England, although it is appealing this week's decision.

Since the ruling, calls have been made for it to be available in Wales and the Welsh Government has said it would review the evidence available.

"We are not advocating every person goes on Prep," Dr Williams added. "It's a small group of people who are at risk.

STI rises

"For whatever reason they put themselves into positions of risk and for whatever reason are not able to keep themselves safe. We feel it's really appropriate for these people to have access to Prep."

Ian Green, chief executive of HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said the figures showed there was still an important public health issue in Wales.

He added: "We encourage people to get tested, because early diagnosis and treatment can not only help people living with HIV to live well, but stop transmission of the virus.

"We urge the Welsh Government to prioritise HIV prevention."

The surveillance report also showed a rise in other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Between 2012 and 2014, syphilis cases in males rose 59% while gonorrhoea was up 31%, herpes 10% and chlamydia 9%.

In females, there was a 20% increase in chlamydia cases and 9% in herpes.

Zoe Couzens, from Public Health Wales, said the figures were "clearly a concern" but added more people were being tested for STIs.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidance suggesting handing out free or cost-price condoms in a bid to cut STIs including HIV.