New HIV diagnoses in heterosexual people are higher than in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) in Scotland for the first time since 2007.

According to Public Health Scotland, 42 per cent of all new HIV diagnoses were in heterosexual people last year, while 29 per cent were in GBMSM.

“Levels of late diagnosis were also slightly elevated in heterosexuals, meaning damage to the immune system may have already begun 27% of those who acquired HIV through heterosexual sexual intercourse were diagnosed at a late/very late stage – this compares to 23% of GBMSM,” the UK’s leading sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust said in a press release.

Since 2017, there has been a steep decline (37 per cent) in new HIV diagnoses in GBMSM, something which has been partially attributed to an uptake in HIV prevention pill PrEP.

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Data shows that, between July and December 2022, GBMSM accounted for 85 per cent of first time prescriptions.

Terrence Higgins Trust also said that accessible HIV testing, condoms, health promotion and people living with HIV’s adherence to treatment which suppresses the virus have all attributed to the decrease in new diagnoses among GBMSM.

“The clock to 2030 is ticking”

Alan Eagleson, our Head of the charity’s Scotland Services, hailed the statistics as proof that “Scotland is making progress on ending new cases of HIV by 2030”, though noted that “we won’t get there by accident”.

“The clock to 2030 is ticking and while today’s statistics show some progress, more must be done to ensure that equitable progress is being made, and that no communities are left behind,” he continued.

“Ramping up HIV testing is fundamental to this. We know that opt-out HIV testing in emergency departments removes some of the persistent barriers that prevent individuals from accessing a HIV test and that this is highly beneficial to those who are less likely to be in regular contact with a sexual health clinic.

“The programme in England has been a phenomenal success in identifying new cases of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C – in just 16 months over 3,000 people have been found and diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis viruses.

“This intervention works – and must be rolled out as a matter of urgency in Scotland.”

There were 317 new HIV diagnoses in Scotland last year

Since 2019, new diagnoses of HIV in heterosexual people have increased by 13 per cent.

Scotland saw a total of 317 new HIV diagnoses last year, representing a 49 per cent rise from 2021, but also a two per cent decline on comparable pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

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There are believed to be 500 people living with undiagnosed HIV in Scotland, with the latest statistics showing that just 84 per cent of those who have a diagnoses in Scotland are recorded as attending specialist care.

“Scotland can – and should – be the first country in the world to eliminate new transmissions of HIV and Public Health Scotland’s data shows some progress towards this goal,” Eagleson added. “The Scottish Government must now set out a clear action plan that delivers on Scotland’s 2030 HIV ambition.”