Objectives: To establish whether there were ethnic differences in demographic characteristics, the stage at HIV diagnosis and reasons for and location of HIV testing between 1998 and 2000 in a large ethnically diverse HIV-1-infected clinic population in south London in the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy.
Methods: A retrospective review was carried out of all persons >18 years old attending King's College Hospital with a first positive HIV-1 test between 1 January 1998 and 31 October 2000, and of a random sample of patients attending St Thomas' hospital with a first positive HIV-1 test in the same period. Demographic data, details of reasons for and site of HIV test, clinical stage, CD4 lymphocyte count and HIV-1 viral load at HIV diagnosis were abstracted from the local database and medical records. Comparisons were made according to ethnic group (white, black African and black Caribbean) and over time (1998, 1999 and 2000).
Results: Of the 494 patients with new HIV-1 diagnoses between January 1998 and December 2000, 179 (36.2%) were white, 270 (54.7%) were black African and 45 (9.1%) were black Caribbean. There were significant differences across the ethnic groups in HIV risk group, reasons for and site of HIV testing, and clinical and CD4 stage at diagnosis. Among whites, 72.6% were men who had sex with men, 3.4% injecting drug users and 21.2% heterosexuals, compared to 2.2%, 0.4% and 93.3% among black Africans, and 28.9%, 0% and 68.9% among black Caribbeans (P<0.001). Black Africans were more likely to present with an AIDS diagnosis (21.3%) and a lower CD4 cell count [223 cells/microL; interquartile range (IQR) 88-348] compared to both whites (9.9%; 358 cells/microL; IQR 151-508) and black Caribbeans (17.9%; 294 cells/microL; IQR 113-380), who were intermediate between whites and black Africans in their stage of presentation. There was a statistically nonsignificant trend with time, between 1998 and 2000, towards earlier diagnosis based on the CD4 cell count in whites (323 and 403 cells/microL) and black Caribbeans (232 and 333 cells/microL), but a later diagnosis in black Africans (233 and 175 cells/microL). The majority of black Africans were HIV-tested as a result of suggestive symptoms or antenatal screening (58.4%) rather than because of perceived risk (40.5%), in contrast to the situation in whites (24.1% vs. 71.7%, respectively) or black Caribbeans (34.5% vs. 65.5%, respectively) (P<0.001). We found no significant differences across ethnic groups in age, HIV-1 viral load or year of HIV diagnosis.
Conclusions: Black Africans continue to present with more advanced HIV disease than whites or black Caribbeans, with no evidence of any trend towards earlier diagnosis. Future educational campaigns designed to promote the uptake of HIV testing among black Africans and black Caribbeans will need to address the multiple barriers to testing, including misperception of risk, stigma and ready access to testing.