This November, HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust will launch England’s first ever National HIV Testing Week.
The week will run from 23 to 30 November 2012, and is being co-ordinated through HIV Prevention England (HPE), a partnership of community organisations funded by the Department of Health to carry out national HIV prevention work in England among communities at an increased risk of infection. It is planned that this new week will become an annual event.
The special awareness week will form the centrepiece of HPE’s autumn campaign Think HIV, which aims to encourage gay and bisexual men to test more regularly for the virus.
In the UK, gay men are one of the groups most disproportionately affected by HIV. However, one in four gay men with HIV currently remains undiagnosed and therefore at risk of serious health problems. Being diagnosed late, and not receiving treatment early enough, can mean that you are nine times more likely to die within a year of receiving diagnosis than someone who is tested in good time. Currently, undiagnosed HIV is a key factor in driving the epidemic among gay men, with the majority of onward transmission coming from men who are unaware that they have the infection in the first place.
Deputy Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, Paul Ward, said, ‘National HIV Testing Week gives us a great opportunity to remind men of the importance of regular testing. Terrence Higgins Trust recommends that sexually active gay and bi men test for HIV at least once a year, and more regularly if they have a high number of partners. However, at present less than a quarter of men take an annual test. If the gay community can drive that figure upwards by testing more often, we will see a reduction in undiagnosed HIV, which in turn will begin to put the brakes on the spread of infection’.
‘We believe it is within our grasp to halt the spread of HIV, but solving this lies just as much with the gay community as it does with the Government. That’s why we need the whole community – venues, gay businesses, and every one of us – to get behind this new initiative and turn a spotlight on HIV testing, not just during testing week but all year round’.
Think HIV will be promoted via adverts in gay media, posters in gay venues, and on bus adverts in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Luton. A number of regional organisations across England will also be commissioned through HPE to promote the campaign in their local communities.
To take part in the campaign, gay and bisexual men can visit www.thinkHIV.org.uk and complete a short survey about their sex life, to receive personalised advice about how regularly they should be testing for HIV.