HIV tests that show a result in 15 minutes and can be done at home have been made freely available for the first time in England.
It works in a similar way to a COVID-19 lateral flow test as it just takes a few drops of blood from a small prick on the finger, with the result appearing soon after.
People across England can also order a test where a small blood sample is sent to a lab and screened for both HIV and syphilis at the same time.
Testing is also available at sexual health clinics for those who prefer face-to-face services.
“Testing for HIV is quick, free, confidential and easy,” said Neil O’Brien, a Conservative MP currently serving as Health Secretary. “It can be even more convenient with the option to test for HIV in the comfort of your own home.”
The announcement comes as the country marks National HIV Testing Week, which takes place from 6-12 February.
Today is the start of National #HIVTestingWeek!
Please RT to let everyone know that testing is quick, free and confidential – it’s also the only way to know your HIV status.
Order a free HIV test kit to be delivered to your door in plain packaging 👇https://t.co/mmVX8CkUUR
— Terrence Higgins Trust (@THTorguk) February 6, 2023
Around 4,400 people are living with undiagnosed HIV in England, with data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showing that testing rates are 20% lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rates of testing among women have fallen by 22% compared with 2019, while heterosexual men saw a staggering 41% decrease.
Dr Alison Brown, Interim Head of HIV Surveillance at the UKHSA, said: “HIV does not discriminate, so no matter your gender or sexual orientation, using condoms and PrEP if you’re eligible are key to prevention. In the UK, people who are unaware they are living with HIV are most likely to pass the virus on to others.”
There has been a surge in viewers researching HIV because of an EastEnders storyline
Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, has been working closely with EastEnders recently to raise awareness about the reality of living with the virus in 2023.
It has advised the soap on a storyline in which a straight cis man, Zack Hudson (James Farrar), tests positive for the virus after sharing steroid needles with someone who is HIV-positive.
There has already been huge success in educating viewers, as Terrence Higgins Trust saw a 75% increase in people visiting its website after the episode aired as people sought to learn more about the virus.
The most popular pages were how HIV is transmitted, stages of HIV infection, symptoms of HIV and post-exposure prophylaxis, the charity told GAY TIMES.
“As the EastEnders HIV storyline we’ve been advising on shows, the truth is it’s always better to know your HIV status, whether positive or negative,” explained Taku Mukiwa, Head of Health Programmes at Terrence Higgins Trust.
“If it’s negative, you can make sure it stays that way. While, as Zack in EastEnders is learning, huge advances in HIV treatment mean you can live a long healthy life with the virus, have children who are HIV-negative and that HIV can’t be passed on to anyone else.”