HIV rates in Portsmouth double the national average as figures reveal dozens diagnosed late

DOZENS of people who tested positive for HIV in Portsmouth were diagnosed late and faced an increased risk of death, figures covering a three-year period show.

Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 7:00 am

Public Health England (PHE) data shows that out of 52 people aged 15 and over who tested positive for HIV in Portsmouth 25 were diagnosed late between 2017 and 2019.

Health statistics revealed the rate of new HIV diagnosis was 15 cases per 100,000 people aged 15 and over in 2019 – almost double the national average of eight per 100,000.

PHE figures also show that in 2019, 42 per cent of 6,600 people in Portsmouth who used specialist sexual health services missed the opportunity to get tested at a clinic through either not being offered an appointment or by declining.

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An HIV positive TB patient, holds a packet of tablets received as part of his treatment. Photo: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

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Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the Channel 4 drama It's A Sin – which covers the 1980s AIDS crisis – has helped boost HIV testing, but there is still more work to be done.

But he added: ‘We firmly believe that there needs to be much more testing right across the country to find those living with undiagnosed HIV and there should never be a postcode lottery on access.

‘Testing for HIV must become like having your eyes tested or a check-up at the dentist and the opportunities made available for that to happen.’

Across England, 3,870 of 8,979 tests were recorded as a late diagnosis over the same period – 43 per cent.

Across England, the late diagnosis rate has risen from 40 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

Late diagnosis is recorded by measuring the strength of a person's immune system at the point of the positive test result. The figures are for tests which provide cell count data within 91 days.

Mr Green said the new TV drama It's a Sin, which has already received 6.5m views, had already helped with a record number of tests ordered as part of National HIV Testing Week last week.

The five-part television series tells the story of a group of young, gay men in London at the height of the AIDS pandemic.

‘We've seen the 'It's a Sin' effect on National HIV Testing Week with tests being ordered faster than ever before off the back of the series, including a surge following [series actor] Olly Alexander's encouragement on social media for people to get tested,’ he said. ‘That's a brilliant legacy for the series.’

PHE said many people diagnosed late have had the infection for at least three years, increasing the likelihood of premature death.

Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which is a collection of symptoms resulting from a weakened immune system which leaves a person susceptible to life-threatening illnesses.

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

It cannot be spread through day-to-day contact like sharing cutlery or kissing.

Clare Perkins, PHE's deputy director of priorities and programmes, said: ‘We urge those at risk of HIV to get tested regularly.

‘Through early detection and treatment with antiretroviral therapy, people with HIV can expect to live as long as people without HIV.’

She said that those at risk of HIV and STIs can still access services through sexual health clinics during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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