According to recent statistics, there are around 106,890 people living with HIV in the UK.
This is just under 2 in every 1000 people*, so what can we learn about who that impacts and how we can continue to educate and break the taboos and stigma that might prevent people from finding out their status.
Are there many women living with HIV in the UK?
A lot of people still think that HIV mainly affects gay men, but in England, gay and bisexual men make up around only 45% of the people who access HIV care. However, the number of new diagnoses in this group has been falling significantly because of the awareness and high uptake of HIV testing, prompt treatment and the use of PrEP (Pro-Exposure Prohylaxis - a medication taken to prevent HIV transmission).
In 2015, gay and bisexual men made up around 50% of the people newly diagnosed with HIV, but in 2021 that had fallen to 36%.*
In general, more men than women are living with HIV but around a third of people living with HIV in the UK are women. Of everybody accessing HIV care in the UK in 2021, 69% were men and 31% were women. Around 0.2% were transgender or gender diverse.
Are the number of people being diagnosed with HIV increasing?
New diagnoses of HIV are decreasing which is great news!
In the UK, as soon as HIV is diagnosed, antiretroviral treatment (ARTs) begins which means the virus is suppressed ensuring the condition does not progress resulting in a healthy and active life and a normal life expectancy. It also ensures the virus cannot be passed on.
Because HIV is a treatable condition, if we each #GetTested and #KnowYourStatus we can reach the target of zero new transmissions by 2030 and eradicate HIV for good!
What does U=U mean?
With successful treatment the virus becomes suppressed so much that it actually becomes undetectable. The treatment actually stops the virus from reproducing and enables your immune system to repair itself and not be damaged further.
Also, incredibly, the science proves that having an undetectable viral load means the virus cannot be passed on, even through having unprotected sex. This is what is meant by Undetectable equals Untransmittable or simply U=U.
So can women still have unprotected sex if they are living with HIV?
Yes, of course! Women living with HIV can have great sex! Anyone living with HIV who has suppressed viral load can have unprotected sex and not pass it on.
Can women living with HIV have a healthy baby?
Yes, they can indeed! With the improvements in anti-retroviral treatments / ARTs if one partner is HIV negative and one is HIV positive (serodiscordant couple) or if both partners are HIV positive, you can live healthy sexual and reproductive lives, as long as meds are being taken regularly and viral suppression has occurred. If you would like to start or add to your family, you can have regular (or not so regular!) sex to conceive a baby without the fear of transmission. As long as the levels of virus in your blood are undetectable!
How long do you have to wait to get an undetectable viral load so you can start your family?
If you are diagnosed early (within the first two years of contracting the virus) then it’s usually quite straightforward. Quite often you only need to take one ART tablet a day and it normally takes around 6 months of regularly taking the medicine to achieve viral suppression, but it can be quicker.
Can you breastfeed if you’re HIV positive and have an undetectable viral load?
Absolutely. All too often people assume it’s not possible that women living with HIV can breastfeed safely. If you’re a woman living with HIV and you have an undetectable viral load then you can virtually eliminate the risk of passing the virus on to your baby through breastfeeding.
Scientific evidence shows antiretroviral treatment is very effective at preventing HIV transmission through breastfeeding as long as the mother takes her medication correctly. This means that mothers living with HIV and their children can benefit from the many advantages of breastfeeding, such as improved growth and development.**
It is always advisable to attend antenatal appointments and consult a medical professional for medical advice to keep you and your baby healthy.
Can women living with HIV receive Fertility Treatment?
As it stands, heterosexual couples where one or both partners are living with HIV can access fertility treatment, but LGBTQI+ people can’t. Regardless of their sexual identity, people living with HIV cannot donate eggs or sperm to a loved one to help them start a family. In August 2022 the National AIDS Trust*** launched a campaign to secure equal fertility rights for all people living with HIV, which we fully support.
BioSure is a U=U global partner**** and our team are genuinely passionate about supporting the U=U campaign and the global plan to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030 through helping people to find out their HIV status on their own terms.
HIV should not be a barrier to health, dignity and equality, and happiness.
So #KnowYourStatus today.
* nam aidsmap https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/hiv-uk
**WHO HIV/AIDS: Infant feeding and nutrition HIV/AIDS: Infant feeding and nutrition (who.int)
*** National AIDS Trust Equal HIV Fertility Rights Now | National AIDS Trust