Sign of The Times for sexual health expert Professor Claudia Estcourt

Professor of Sexual Health and HIV Claudia Estcourt has featured in The Times newspaper explaining how we can stop the Scottish spread of HIV in eight years.

She said HIV transmission in Scotland could be “virtually eliminated” by the end of the decade, almost 50 years after the virus was identified.

Professor Estcourt, from Glasgow Caledonian University’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses (SHBBV) research group in the Research Centre for Health (ReaCH), said a meeting involving clinicians, researchers, community organisations and the NHS was a “really exciting turning point”.

However, she highlighted that hitting the target would be challenging, particularly with COVID-19 continuing to disrupt and distort public health service provision.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) was branded a “gay plague” soon after it was identified in the US in 1981, though it first appeared in Scotland among drugs users in Edinburgh.

Professor Estcourt said the stigma surrounding the virus was still powerful and made identifying every case difficult.

She said: “As we diagnose a greater proportion of all the infections left to diagnose, it will become a bit like needles in haystacks and that probably because the people we’re not yet finding and helping have got very complex health needs.

“We’ve got to be very sophisticated about this, very holistic and very people-focused. That is a big challenge, but one that we are ready to attempt to meet.”

Professor Estcourt led a study last year with fellow GCU researchers Professor Sharon Hutchinson, Professor David Goldberg, Honorary Professor Nicola Steedman, who is also Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and Research Fellow Dr Alan Yeung, that found HIV diagnosis in gay and bisexual men had fallen by 20% in Scotland since the introduction of PrEP (pre-exposure prophelaxis), an antiretroviral treatment to prevent those at highest risk from contracting the virus.

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