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19% of men who think they are HIV-negative have never actually taken an HIV test

The latest results from a survey on HIV treatment has exposed a gap in knowledge that needs to be rectified with better sex education.

GMFA surveyed 9,000 gay and bisexual men throughout the year as part of their ‘How Risky am I?’ tool, which helped them find out their sexual health score and receive information and advice on treatment and testing.

The tool was launched as part of their RISE Partnership, which includes NAZ, London Friend and The Race Equality Foundation.

It has become GMFA’s largest ever sexual health survey, but it has thrown up some key findings that need to be addressed.

Overall, 19% of men who think that they are HIV-negative have never actually taken an HIV test.

When that’s broken down into age categories, that accounts for 78% of men under the age of 17, 23% of 18-29 year olds, 10% of 30-49 year olds, and 35% over the age of 60.

NIAID via Flickr

Related: What is HIV? The facts and the myths explained

Elsewhere, 22% of the men asked did not know what ‘viral loads’ means, 23% didn’t know that people who are HIV-undetectable cannot pass on the virus, and that 25% did not know what PEP is.

What’s more, 24% of the gay and bi men who took the survey didn’t know what PrEP is.

PrEP – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – is an anti-HIV medication taken by people who are HIV negative to lower their risk of contracting the infection.

“It’s very clear from these results that there is still a major information gap about PrEP, PEP and what being HIV-undetectable means for men who are at the peak of their sexual activity,” Ian Howley, Chief Executive of GMFA, said of the results.

“Many men under the age of 39 years old are lacking basic knowledge that could stop them from becoming HIV-positive.”

Ian added: “I also want to focus on the men who responded to this tool over the age 60. Many of these men would have gone through the AIDS epidemic. 774 men over the age of 60 completed the tool with 35% of these men having never had an HIV test, 51% didn’t know what PEP or PrEP is, and their knowledge about viral load is also quite poor with only 37% knowing what it means.

“We in the HIV sector must not forget that there is no cut off point when someone stops having sex. We can’t assume that just because they lived through the 80s and 90s older gay men don’t need sexual health education. We must reach out to older gay and bisexual men just like we do with younger gay men.

Related: HIV-prevention drugs could save the NHS over £1 billion

“And speaking of younger gay and bisexual men. 284 gay and bisexual men under the age of 17 completed this survey. Of which, 78% have never had an HIV test, 61% don’t know what viral load means, 54% don’t know what HIV-undetectable means, 59% don’t know what PEP is and 60% don’t know what PrEP is.

“I think it’s quite alarming that so many young men, many who may be already sexually active or about to become sexually active, have a lack of vital sexual heath knowledge. This shows a must of sex and relationship education for young people and this must include information for gay and bisexual teenagers.

“However, when we first launched this tool our aim was to reach over 2,000 gay and bisexual men within a year. The fact that over 9,000 men have already completed this survey shows us the desire by gay and bisexual men of all ages to take control of their sexual health. And we are seeing this in action with new HIV diagnosis dropping by 29% in London alone in 2016 with an increase in gay and bisexual men using PrEP to protect themselves.

“We must look at these results, see what information gay and bisexual men are lacking and discover how we can work to better educate our community about PrEP, PEP, and viral load/HIV-undetectable while working to increase HIV testing rates. Everyone deserves to have the best sex with the least amount of risk.”

If you would like to view the results in full, you can do so here. If you like to take the How Risky am I? survey and find out your sexual health score, that’s available here.

Related: HIV-positive result rates among gay and bi men has fallen in England

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