1st December every year is World AIDS day and an opportunity to raise awareness.
Since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, there have been massive advancements made in treatment and management of HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS. So much so that people who become infected with HIV, when diagnosed promptly with access to modern treatments can expect to live a long and healthy life and a normal life span.
Why then, I often wonder, should people living with HIV, a manageable health condition have to put up with stigmatized negative attitudes?
Unfortunately social attitudes and awareness around HIV that I often encounter have not necessarily advanced along with medical progress. This perpetuates fear and stigma, the effects of which such as rejection, judgement or hostility are still a major issue for people living with HIV, their communities and creates barriers for many people to get tested.
“Who can I trust to tell?” – “What’s the reaction going to be if I tell him?” – “Will I be bullied on social media if people know I have HIV?” are more often the type of worrying questions people living with HIV may face rather than questions around physical health.
One of the main aims of our sexual health services at Birmingham LGBT is to reduce late HIV diagnoses and promote regular testing.
Late HIV diagnosis is defined as a CD4 count of less than 350 cells/mm3 (the UK bench mark for when HIV treatment should be started) within three months of HIV diagnosis. Reducing late HIV diagnosis is a priority because people diagnosed late will have been living with an undiagnosed HIV infection for a significant period of time and would be at risk of premature death (from HIV related illness) and of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners (as the HIV will have been uncontrolled by HIV treatment, making the infected person more infectious through unprotected sex). Whereas for someone who has been diagnosed and is on HIV treatment, their viral load (the amount of HIV in their body fluids) usually becomes undetectable. The risk of transmitting HIV is dramatically reduced when people have an undetectable viral load.
In attempting to reduce late diagnosis we must also tackle the stigma that exists too by raising awareness and educating people about the realities of the condition and dispelling fears around getting tested.
‘Here to support you – Not to judge you’ is the Birmingham LGBT Sexual Health Services slogan. We take our slogan seriously. We do not judge, but aim to increase awareness and knowledge through factual information and support.
Stigma, fear, ignorance, call it what you will, creates not only difficulties for those living with HIV and those close to them but also acts as a major barrier to people getting tested regularly. HIV is still an issue that affects us as an LGBT community, with over half of all new diagnosis last year were among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men*, and 39% of adults were diagnosed at late stage of infection* (*Public Health England)
During November this year we ran a campaign for National HIV Testing Week, offering rapid HIV testing out in the community. Many of the people who tested with us had never previously had a HIV test, and didn’t know that testing now can be so fast, easy and confidential. With our rapid HIV testing service results are given in just 60 seconds – this service is available 7 days a week.
HIV is a condition that could affect anyone, yet many people are not really aware of the facts about it.
On World AIDS Day this year we will be broadcasting a live video on Facebook showing a real rapid HIV test being carried out at our Birmingham LGBT clinic www.facebook.com/umbrellaatbirminghamlgbt Take a look, see how simple and fast it is, and learn more about our services and facilities at the LGBT centre or drop in and talk to our sexual health team about our range of HIV testing options, or ask us about testing or any other matters around HIV if you’re unsure.
So this World AIDS day, we’ll be showing our support and hope that we can make a difference.
Why is it a good idea to have a regular HIV test?
Reducing late diagnosis through regular HIV testing is our recommendation because if you have been infected with HIV, the sooner you find out, the better it is for your health and the sooner you could get the right support and treatment. If you have HIV for a long time without knowing, it can damage your health and even shorten your life, and increase chances of unwittingly passing on the virus.
For anyone who may get a reactive test result, our team will support you through a fast track referral process into the care of the Umbrella clinical team.
If your test result is negative you can end any worries or doubt.
It’s recommended to get tested at least once a year or more often if you have unprotected sex with more sexual partners.
Getting tested for HIV – What are the options?
There are various ways you can get tested with us:
- Use our walk-in service, 7 days a week and take a rapid HIV test (results in 60 seconds)
- Attend our nurse led walk-in clinic every Thursday between 12-7:15pm (last walk-in slot at 6:30)
- You can test at home using self-testing STI kit, available free of charge (to Birmingham & Solihull residents) from https://umbrellahealth.co.uk
- You can attend a sexual health clinic local to you. Find your local clinic at https://umbrellahealth.co.uk/service-locator