19 November 2014

Raising awareness of HIV testing and reducing stigma

National HIV Testing Week takes place from 22 to 30 November 2014, ahead of World AIDS day on 1 December.

Organisations across the city are working together to raise awareness of the importance of HIV Testing, especially for those groups with the highest reported incidences of HIV - these are gay men and African people.  

The aim of National HIV Testing week is to reach the groups of people most at risk of HIV and share the message that everyone should know their HIV status.

Tom Scanlon, Brighton & Hove City Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “HIV Testing Week highlights the importance of safer sex and taking practical action to avoid this preventable disease.

“With more than a fifth of people living with HIV being unaware they are HIV positive, it is vital everyone finds out about how to reduce the risks of contracting HIV and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Information is readily available online and from local clinics which can help people make safer choices.

“Anyone sexually active should take this opportunity to have an HIV test with support from local organisations. While recognising the constructive way people living with HIV face the challenges of this life changing disease, we would like to see a reduction in the numbers of new instances in the future for the benefit of all.”

An estimated 21 per cent of people living with HIV do not know they are HIV positive because they have not been tested. During National HIV Testing Week additional clinics will be run across the city providing free rapid HIV testing (details of where tests will be available are below and ).

The tests are quick and easy. Testing involves a finger-prick blood test, with results available within 15 minutes. People taking the test will be given information and support before and afterwards. Anyone testing positive will be referred quickly to a specialist clinic.

Early diagnosis of HIV is important. People are more likely to do better if they start HIV treatment before their immune system is too damaged. Being aware can also help reduce onwards transmission.

Historically there has been a lack of understanding about HIV. Times are now changing for the better. The local HIV care service, the Lawson Unit, has spoken with medical professions about diagnosis and living with HIV in Brighton & Hove.

Comments included: “I was diagnosed HIV+ through a blood test done by my GP who I had visited due to fatigue and loss of appetite. I was very surprised when I got the diagnosis as I thought I was in a monogamous relationship and he was the first person I had ever had unsafe sex with. This was just over 20 years ago …To be honest I do not now feel I have to hide my status or disclose it, as I am completely comfortable just being me. I work hard and am good with patients showing all I come across respect and dignity and all I ask in return is that I get the same treatment.”

And also:

“I respect the HIV and am well prepared for likely bumps and challenges in treatment in the future, it does not rule me or define me, and it is a part of my life that I cannot change. Anger is pointless, you have to take control, be incredibly grateful that you have access to treatment and live your life. The mental challenges are as important to deal with as the physical challenges but life is amazing, I am truly blessed and would not have my sexuality, HIV status and life any different than it is.”

There is still more can be done to help challenge prejudice against people living with HIV. The Terrence Higgins Trust has prepared a HIV Stigma Statement which will be signed by local organisations, including Brighton & Hove City Council, on Friday 28 November. The purpose of the statement is summed up in a key paragraph:

“We can all play a part in tackling HIV stigma, by learning the facts about HIV and recognising that people living with HIV have equal rights and should not be defined by their HIV status.”

Through working together the importance of testing for HIV and supporting those living with HIV can make a difference to everyone in Brighton & Hove.

Where people can receive HIV testing:

  • Terrence Higgins Trust are offering free rapid HIV testing at their Ship Street location Monday to Friday 10am to 8.00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm and Wednesday at Brighton Sauna on Grand Parade 6pm to 8.30pm
  • HIV and other sexual health tests are available at the Claude Nicol Clinic
  • All attendees at the genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic will be offered HIV testing
  • GPs are offering HIV tests to all men and African women attending surgeries for a blood test of any kind during National HIV Testing Week

More information on where tests are available locally can be found using a postcode search

Get general advice about safer sex 

Specific information for men who have sex with men

Background information:

The number of residents of Brighton & Hove who have accessed NHS funded treatment for HIV in 2013 is 1,670 people, an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year.

Notes to editors:

Public Health England has issued information ahead of National HIV Testing Week to raise awareness of the national campaign.