Give the finger to HIV during HIV testing week

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The council is working alongside local organisations and partners during National HIV Testing Week (NHTW) from 18 – 24 November 2017, in the run up to World AIDS day on 1 December, to raise awareness of the importance of getting tested for HIV and increase the opportunities to test.

The week-long campaign – ‘Give HIV the finger’ – promotes the ease of a finger prick test to check your HIV status. It is co-ordinated by HIV Prevention England (HPE) and promotes the various places people can receives tests – be it clinical settings, primary care, community-based rapid testing or via the post – as well as the benefits of regular testing and treatment available.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus most commonly passed on by having sex without a condom. It can also be transferred by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment, and from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

Mayor John Biggs said:

“Increasing the number of people who are tested is key in reducing the number of people who are diagnosed late with HIV. Tower Hamlets has made huge progress in reducing late diagnosis of HIV and we now have the lowest rate in the country.

“We are encouraging residents to get tested as it’s a free, confidential and quick process that can even be done in the comfort of your own home.”

The annual week encourages gay and bisexual men and black African people to test at least every year as these groups make up seven out of 10 people in the UK living with HIV. Even if you are not in these groups, you should have an HIV test when you change partners.

In the UK, people are testing more, staying protected by using condoms, starting to use Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), getting diagnosed and starting HIV treatment earlier. Thanks to this combination approach, the UK is witnessing a substantial decline in HIV diagnoses.

PrEP is a course of HIV drugs taken by those most at risk to reduce their chances of getting infected by at least 90 per cent.

It is now being made available as part of a three year trial from sexual health clinics including the Ambrose King Centre at the Royal London Hospital.

Recent data shows an approximate 25 per cent drop in new HIV diagnoses among residents of Tower Hamlets from 2015 to 2016.

In London there was a 29 per cent decrease in new diagnoses among men who have sex with men in 2016 compared to 2015, whereas in other parts of England there was an 11 per cent decrease.

In the UK, HIV testing is free and available to everyone in a range of options to suit individual situations. Testing can be carried out via a finger-prick test, an oral swab test or a clinical blood test. This can be done at a local clinic, a community-based testing event or at home via a postal kit.

It is thought there are at least one third of people living with HIV in London who do not know their status. The quicker someone who has HIV knows they are infected with HIV then the sooner they can start taking treatments which will not only help stop damage to their immune system but can also help protect their partners once their viral load is so low as to be un-transmittable.

Cllr Denise Jones, lead member for health and adults said:

“We are encouraging people to have an HIV test during HIV Testing Week as HIV often has no symptoms.

“Beyond this week, it is still important to practise safer sex, have on-going check-ups and testing at least once a year or more often if you are very sexually active. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be successful.”

Positive East, London’s largest HIV charity, provides free testing, sessions and support in a safe, welcoming space for anyone who wants to learn more or needs help with longer term care.

Here they share a cases study of someone they supported through HIV awareness:

“A is an African man in his 30s. He had never tested before, but was coming to the clinic, because he had found his partners’ anti-HIV medication the day before.

“He had approached his partner the day before about the medication, and she disclosed she was living with HIV. He was anxious as they weren’t always using condoms.

“At the clinic, we spent a good deal of time with him as he knew very little about HIV, and was concerned about his health. We explained that having found the medication was a good indicator that she was taking medication, and we explained that a person who is taking HIV medication, who has an undetectable viral load cannot pass on the virus. We discussed antenatal screening of HIV, and the near elimination of mother to child transmission in this country, as a result.

“The more we spoke, he realised that she had been fearful of talking to him, since previous relationships had always failed when it came to disclosing her status and that she was afraid of the stigma associated with HIV.  He explained that in her community, people living with HIV had been outcast, and he recognised some of the complexities she may have been facing.

“He tested negative, and also declared that the wanted the relationship to continue. We discussed the issues around testing regularly, condom use and how PrEP worked. We  informed him that Positive East provides counselling, groups and peer support to people living with HIV, but also to people affected by a loved ones HIV status. 

“We didn't pass judgement but we did recognise the difficulties of the situation they may have been faced with. 

“We also stressed that testing is important, because it reduces undiagnosed HIV infection. It means, if positive, people can access early treatment, and if effective, eliminates the possibility of transmitting HIV. Testing is only one part of HIV prevention – the ability to support people living with HIV and to breakdown the stigma and silence that can shame people into not disclosing their status, or that shames us into not even testing in the first place, is also key. 

“We also informed him of where he could test both in the hospital and in the community and also reassured him of the confidentiality of the service.”

Positive East runs a free and confidential HIV testing service at 159 Mile End Road, E1 4AQ each Saturday from 11am to 3pm and each Wednesday from 5.30pm to 8.30pm.  

They will also be hosting pop-up testing clinics and information stalls alongside their regular clinics during National HIV Testing Week, open to anyone:  

Date

Time

Venue

Activity

Wednesday
22 Nov

5.30pm – 8.30pm

Positive East

HIV Testing and STI screening clinic

Thursday 23 Nov

11.30am – 2.30pm

Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Rd, Whitechapel, London E1 1BB

Information and STI screening

Sunday
26 Nov

11am – 3pm

Victoria Park

Annual flagship World AIDS Day red run fundraiser and community event (bringing together 28 HIV charities).

Friday 1 Dec

5 – 7pm

St John’s at Bethnal Green

World AIDS Day Concert

Saturday 2 Dec

10am – 5pm

Positive East

World Aids Day Health and Wellbeing Fayre, Community event, with stalls, testing and food.

Free HIV testing kits are available on request and you receive your results by post. Request one today at: https://www.test.hiv/

For more information visit the Positive East and National HIV testing week sites. 

Posted on Friday 17th November 2017