While the latest report by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showed a 33 per cent drop in total number of new HIV diagnoses in England in 2020, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has called on the government to make the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) tablets available at community pharmacies across Great Britain.
PrEP is available free through sexual health clinics and offers almost full protection from HIV when taken as recommended prior to sex or injecting drugs.
RPS president Professor Claire Anderson said: “There is a clear opportunity to drive down rates of HIV infection by expanding provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to community pharmacies and GP practices as part of the government’s HIV Action Plan.”
HIV Action Plan (2022 to 2025) set out by the government aims to end HIV transmission and AIDS, to decrease the number of HIV-related deaths and to end HIV-related stigma by 2030.
She added: “Community pharmacies are highly trusted and conveniently located, providing a much wider reach than specialist services can on their own. Pharmacies see those who may be reluctant or unable to attend other health services, play a vital role in reducing harm, and provide rapid access to health and care.”
She urged the government “to make PrEP available through community pharmacies as soon as possible.”
The UKSHA report said there were 2,630 new diagnoses in 2020 compared to 3,950 in 2019.
It noted that decline in new HIV diagnoses in England was sharpest in gay and bisexual men, which fell by 41 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while number of heterosexuals opting for diagnosis fell by 33 per cent during the period.
It highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed patterns of sexual behaviour, affected HIV testing and limited access to sexual health and HIV services, thus impacted the number of diagnoses, it said.
Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV Surveillance at UKHSA, said: “The continued decline in HIV diagnoses made in England is encouraging, but last year’s data needs to be considered in the context of a Covid-19 pandemic which saw prolonged and unprecedented public health restrictions, coupled with intense pressure on health services resulting in a decline in HIV testing overall.
“It is now crucial that we continue to ramp up testing and start people on treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.”