Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), including those believed to be at “high risk”, are not getting HIV tests frequently enough, according to new research by the University of Glasgow.
The study found that while national guidelines suggest all MSM test annually for HIV and those “at higher risk” every three months, neither recommendation is being met.
Published in the HIV Medicine journal today, the research is the first to explore the frequency of HIV testing among MSM in the UK.
Fewer than one in five men reported having four or more tests in the past two years, while the authors estimated that only 54.9 per cent of MSM undergo a test each year.
Researchers said a contributory factor was that there is currently no consensus about who “at risk” groups were.
Dr Lisa McDaid, the lead author of the study, said: “HIV testing is a core component of current HIV prevention, but despite substantial increases in the uptake of HIV testing in recent years, our results suggest MSM in the UK do not test frequently enough.
“Furthermore, given that current guidelines suggest individuals at risk of HIV test as frequently as every three months – as well as after a risk event – and that men newly diagnosed with HIV are known to have been less frequent testers, there is a clear need to promote frequent testing as routine and address barriers to frequent testing accordingly.”
Among the HIV testers, more than half reported that their most recent test was part of a regular sexual health check and more than one-third tested in response to a perceived risk event.
Overall 21.2 per cent reported more than four HIV tests and 33.7 per cent reported two to three tests in the past two years. The study also found that 56.7 per cent tested for HIV as part of a regular sexual health check and 35.5 per cent tested following a risk event.
The study looked at data from surveys of 2,409 MSM in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London in 2011 and a Scotland-wide online survey in 2012-13.
Grant Sugden, chief executive of Waverley Care, a charity offering support for those with HIV or Hep C in Scotland, said: “This study underlines the work that is needed to ensure MSM and other at-risk groups are aware of the benefits of HIV testing.
“There are a number of options to get tested, from GPs and clinics to services like Waverley Care. Testing is quick and convenient, and that with early diagnosis and treatment, HIV is a manageable long-term condition.”