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Lambeth Council says innovative solutions needed as HIV testing and diagnoses drop during the pandemic

HIV testing and diagnoses dropped in 2020 and Lambeth still has the highest HIV prevalence in England, according to data released last month. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) report revealed Lambeth still has an “extremely high” HIV prevalence of 13.09 compared to the national average of 2.31, while HIV testing fell by 30% and new diagnoses decreased by 33% nationwide 2020-2021. 

Though this drop in testing and diagnoses is partly to do with reduced social mixing and transmission, the UKHSA said there may be a rise in dangerous late HIV diagnoses in the coming years, particularly among heterosexual adults whose testing fell substantially during the pandemic.

In a statement to SWL about tackling HIV in London, the UKHSA said: “It is without doubt that the impact of the pandemic has been huge on the overall health of Londoners and it is important that we maintain the momentum we have built up as a city on preventing HIV. 

“We will be widening the offer of ‘opt out’ HIV testing in our A&E departments and this will help diagnose those living with the virus who may be unaware of their status and support them into treatment.

“Londoners should not hesitate to get tested and contact sexual health services for support and advice. The ambitious target to end new HIV infections in London by 2030 is within our grasp.”

Lambeth, which has long suffered the worst HIV prevalence of any local authority in England, saw tests decrease from 17,545 in 2019 to 10,279 in 2020.

Yet Lambeth council pointed to the success of its campaign Do It London, which adapted during the pandemic to try to ensure the target of zero new HIV infections and deaths by 2030 is met.

Councillor Lucy Caldicott said: “Lambeth Council welcomes the latest HIV epidemiology for 2020.

“The fall in new HIV diagnoses in the capital continues the encouraging downward trend witnessed in recent years, although the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent intermittent lockdowns presented novel challenges to Sexual Health Services.

“The overall reduction in testing will require innovative solutions to ensure London’s target of zero new HIV infections by 2030 is met.

“Lambeth Council is proud to host the London HIV Prevention Programme on behalf of 31 other London boroughs.

” The programme’s flagship social marketing campaign, Do It London, shifted its focus in 2020 to highlight how Londoners can access home sampling HIV testing kits as well as PrEP, Condoms, and knowledge of U=U.

“Lambeth also led the campaign to get PrEP made available free on the NHS to all who need it.

“As a result, the 2020 campaign saw record levels of engagement including Londoners who ordered a home sampling HIV testing kit via the Do It London website.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London accepted HIV testing and outreach had been affected by the pandemic, but reaffirmed the commitment to the 2030 goal.

They said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted health services across the capital. 

“While we saw a reduction in HIV walk-in testing and outreach during lockdowns, as Covid restrictions lifted and as clinics resumed more face-to-face appointments, testing rates are on the way to recovering to previous levels. 

“Testing has also been offered to people who may have struggled to access it in the past, such as those experiencing homelessness who were supported through emergency hotel accommodation during the pandemic.

“We continue to work with the NHS and local authorities, as well as national government to ensure that sexual health services across London offer rapid access to testing and diagnosis, as well as highly effective options for prevention, treatment and care so that we can meet our commitment.”

National HIV testing week is taking place 7-13 February this year.

Find out how to get tested here.

Featured image credit: Testalize.me on Unsplash

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