Sexual health charities, Leeds City Council and the NHS are gearing up for National HIV Testing week starting Saturday 16th November with an increase in community based testing opportunities for HIV across the city.
This year the national campaign will feature celebrities and influencers promoting the message ‘Give HIV the finger: a finger-prick test is all it takes’.
Now in its eighth year, National HIV Testing Week will be marked with an increase in community based testing and a focus on increasing knowledge amongst health professionals and the general public.
Despite great advances in prevention, testing and treatment contributing to a national reduction in the number of people diagnosed with HIV, there are still around 1 in 12 people who are unaware they have HIV and spend an average of three to five years not knowing, increasing the risk of passing HIV on to sexual partners.
Late diagnosis rates are still too high – nationally 43% of people were diagnosed late in 2018. This correlates to poorer long-term health outcomes and leads to a tenfold increase of death within one year.
The campaign aims to encourage groups most affected by HIV including gay and bisexual men and black Africans to test.
In Leeds the campaign is being run in partnership between Yorkshire MESMAC, BHA Leeds Skyline and the Leeds Sexual Health Service (a partnership between Leeds Community Healthcare Trust, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Yorkshire Mesmac). The campaign is supported by Leeds City Council.
Councillor Rebecca Charlwood, chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board, said:
“We are proud to support this campaign to encourage people to test and be aware of their HIV status.
“Challenging the misconceptions that some people may have about the condition helps to reduce the stigma that many people living with HIV still face.
“Testing has never been easier, either through accessing a self-sampling kit online, visiting one of the many ‘finger prick testing’ sessions within the community, or visiting one of Leeds’ key sexual health services.”
Dr Anna Hartley, Consultant in Sexual Health & HIV at Leeds Sexual Health said:
“In the UK, the number of new HIV diagnoses is falling but unfortunately the number of people who are diagnosed late is still relatively high i.e. people who have lived with the virus for a longer period without knowing. Early diagnosis means you can get on treatment early leading to a life expectancy which is the same as someone who is not living with HIV. HIV treatments today are extremely effective and well tolerated. Diagnosing and then treating HIV all starts with HIV testing, which is why campaigns like HIV Testing Week are so important.”
Tom Doyle, Chief Executive – Yorkshire MESMAC Group of Services said:
“We are the generation that can see the end of HIV transmission. We have treatments now that can suppress the virus so much that it is undetectable, once undetectable HIV cannot be transmitted, so we can say with absolute confidence that undetectable equals untransmissible or U=U. For this strategy to work it is important that we know our HIV status and the only way to know that for sure is to take a HIV test.”
Jeni Hirst, Director of Service Development & Delivery at BHA Leeds Skyline said:
“PrEP is a proven method of preventing HIV infection which involves someone who does not have HIV taking medication to prevent them getting it. Research shows that it is an effective way to prevent HIV, as long as you continue to take it as prescribed. Being on PrEP means even if your partner has HIV you are protecting yourself. It is important to remember that PrEP won’t protect you from other STI’s and condoms still remain the best way to prevent those.”
If you are at increased risk of HIV infection, you may be able to access PrEP via the NHS impact trial and should contact Leeds Sexual Health or alternatively, to buy genuine PrEP safely, visit https://www.iwantprepnow.co.uk/buy-prep-now
Public Health England has also launched this year’s National HIV Self Sampling Service linked to Testing Week which will run between 21st October– 6th January 2020. Tests can be ordered online at www.freetesting.hiv completed at home and sent back through the post. The ultimate goal is to increase regular HIV testing in the most at risk groups.
World AIDS Day follows Testing Week on 1st December. This year BHA Leeds Skyline will be hosting a World Aids Day Event on Friday 29th Nov, 6-7pm at Mill Hill Chapel with personal stories, information sharing, and live music from the choir Gay Abandon. Mince pies and coffee for everyone; come to celebrate, and also to remember those we have lost.