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National HIV Testing Week 22–29 November 2013

Get tested. Know your status.

Taking tests is never fun, whether it’s in school, the opticians or the clinic, but there is one test that you, we and everybody certainly shouldn’t ignore - the HIV test. In fact, it’s so important that the Terrence Higgins Trust, in collaboration with HIV Prevention England, have dedicated an entire week to checking for the virus – and they want to test you. This year’s National HIV Testing Week is 22nd – 29th November and is encouraging gay and bisexual man across the country to find out their HIV status. Former soldier James Wharton is pictured above taking a HIV test.

The harsh reality of the situation is that more people in the UK have HIV than ever before. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and disease. Without effective treatment, HIV develops into AIDS, the final stage of the infection in which the body can no longer fight against life-threatening diseases. They say that prevention is better than cure, and considering there is no cure for HIV as yet, we, as a community, have to do all we can to prevent its spread.

But figures released this week by Public Health England (PHE) show that we haven’t been doing our part in the fight against HIV. The PHE report revealed that the number of gay and bisexual men testing positive for HIV has reached a new high of 3,250 cases, half of whom discovered their HIV+ positive status when they tested for the first time, and 34% of whom were diagnosed late, after the point at which they should have started treatment. In England, ten HIV+ people die every week because of late diagnosis of the virus.

Reflecting on these shocking figures, Deborah Jack, the Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust said: “Awareness messages about condom use and regular testing don’t seem to be reaching gay and bisexual men who are at risk of HIV or changing their behaviour. These statistics should prompt local authorities to provide adequate HIV prevention and testing services. But this is also a wake up call for the gay community. Not only should gay and bisexual men be offered tests, they shouldn’t wait to be asked. They need to take the initiative and get regularly tested.”

Paul Ward, Acting Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, agrees that undiagnosed HIV is a key factor on the viral epidemic and wants to encourage all gay and bisexual men to get tested: “Reducing undiagnosed HIV is now the single most important step we can take to halt the spread of HIV within the gay community. Within the last year, thanks to initiatives like National HIV Testing Week, we’ve seen a large increase in the number of gay men coming forward for testing. Hundreds more gay men with HIV now know their status, helping them access life-saving treatments and drastically reducing the chance of them passing the virus on. We’re getting there, but we can’t stop now.”

Do your part this National HIV Testing Week and get tested – for your health and the health of your sexual partners. gay and bisexual men should be testing for HIV at least a year, or three times a year if you are having casual sex regularly. And remember: condoms still remain the best way to prevent all sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV.

HIV tests are free, quick and confidential. Positive East, for example, the London-based HIV charity, are offering instant HIV tests across the city, in bars, saunas and the fetish shop Expectations. Positive East have also released a video with gay porn star Darius Ferdynand, who has some sage advice for every gay and bisexual man out there: “I have great sex but I do so knowing what my HIV status is – so should you.” Follow his example, look after your health and the health of your partners and get checked this National HIV Testing Week 2013.

Follow the following links for more information:
National AIDS Trust website - a resource for HIV+ people

Words: Darcy Rive

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