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National HIV Testing Week is Here!

The main purpose of HIV Testing Week is to encourage as many people as possible to test especially those that may be in at risk groups. There’s now lots of way to test and it can be done in as little as 15 minutes!

According to the latest figures from Public Health England, one in 14 people with HIV don’t know they have it. But if they did know, they could receive the right treatment. Last year 43% of people diagnosed with HIV were diagnosed late, which can have a big impact on a person’s health – that’s why regular testing is so important. We need to identify who these undiagnosed people are and empower everyone to take control of their sexual health.

People diagnosed with HIV can now lead healthy lives with the same life expectancy as anyone else. This is thanks to new drug therapies that also mean they can reach an undetectable viral load with no risk of passing the virus on to their sexual partners.

At risk people include members of the LGBTQ+ community, sex workers and people from Black African and BME populations.

Terrence Higgins Trust has its own walk in clinics, including the one in Brighton where I work, and you can come in for a test Monday to Friday without an appointment. The test itself is quick, easy and confidential. It involves a finger prick blood test and results are back within 15 minutes.

Throughout National HIV Testing Week, our opening hours have been extended to 10am to 8pm Monday to Friday in Brighton, and our outreach teams will be keeping up their regular visits to bars and venues in the city to engage as many people as possible particularly from the at risk groups. During these times we will be offering STI testing and hand out advice about HIV testing, as well as signposting when they can visit clinics.

I work with the Black African and BME project in Brighton so I am particularly focused on encouraging members of these communities to become more aware about the need for HIV testing.

HIV can be highly stigmatised in these communities so getting people to engage really important. There are different reasons why stigma exists and there is not one answer. It depends on an individual’s circumstances and life experience. It may be that they come from a country where there is a high prevalence of HIV and treatment options are different to the UK. We’ve made huge progress in HIV treatment and prevention in the UK that means ending new HIV transmissions by 2030 is an achievable goal. That same progress has sadly not been seen in many other parts of the world.

There also may not be automatic trust in western medicine and doctors. It’s really important to focus on education about HIV testing and using the right messaging to reach the right people. That’s why the work that Terrence Higgins Trust and the projects that exist like the BABME project in Brighton are so important. Blanket health messages may not always resonate with these people so its a key part of my job to ensure we approach this with the right thought processes using relevant materials and inventive approaches.

Part of what I’m doing is making sure that people know my face and feel that Terrence Higgins Trust is accessible to all. Ending this stigma is something I am really passionate about.

When someone is tested and receives a positive diagnosis, they are given access to treatment which means they can expect a normal and healthy life.

There is nothing to be ashamed or afraid about when it comes to HIV testing. Having an HIV test puts you in control of your health and should be something to be proud of. That’s the message we will be getting out there all this week.

To find out where to test near you or order a free self-sampling test where you can test for HIV at home visit startswithme.org.uk You can also test at your local clinic or talk to your GP about testing.

Aisha Namurach
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