Free testing in Buckinghamshire this HIV Testing Week
Monday 6 February marks the start of National HIV Testing Week and specific communities in Buckinghamshire who are statistically more likely to be affected by HIV, are being reminded of the importance of regular testing in a bid to drive down rates of undiagnosed HIV.
The week-long, national initiative promotes regular testing amongst the most affected population groups in England. This year the campaign returns with a new strapline – ‘I Test’ which is followed by a line that explores the different reasons people have for testing.
The UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust, which is part of the Buckinghamshire Sexual Health and Wellbeing (bSHaW) Service, will be running free testing at the YMCA in High Wycombe on Wednesday 8 February between 2pm and 5pm. Other clinics are available in Aylesbury and High Wycombe all year round. HIV testing is provided to anyone free of charge in Buckinghamshire either by attending a clinic or ordering a home self-sampling kit. Visit www.sexualhealthbucks.nhs.uk for more information.
Many people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV are unaware that they have a disease and remain undiagnosed for many years. This not only affects their overall health and wellbeing but increases the risk of transmission of the STI to other people.
During the period of 2019-21, Buckinghamshire’s late diagnosis rate was 50%. This is where an individual is tested positive for HIV after the virus has already started to damage their immune system.
The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have a HIV test, as symptoms of HIV may not appear for many years. Anyone who thinks they could have HIV should get tested. Regular testing benefits us all by helping to reduce the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV and those diagnosed late.
Throughout HIV Testing Week the Buckinghamshire Sexual Health and Wellbeing Team will be posting on their Instagram and Facebook pages to debunk myths about the virus and promote the free self-testing service. Find them by searching @SexualHealthBucks.
Angela Macpherson, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing explained the importance of regular HIV testing, she said: “People can live with HIV for a long time without any symptoms, and testing is the only way to know your status. The sooner you know it, the sooner you can access treatment if needed and avoid passing the virus on to anyone else.
“Most people will get a negative result but whatever happens, it’s important to know that anyone diagnosed with HIV in the UK can access free treatment and support and we have a range of services here in Buckinghamshire to help everyone who needs it.”
Nigel French, Sexual Health Practitioner at Terrence Higgins Trust said: “This National HIV Testing Week we’re encouraging people to quickly and easily get tested.
“Getting tested regularly should be something we’re all doing in order to protect ourselves. Testing for HIV is quick and easy. If your results come back positive we can offer all the support, advice and information you need.”
Nigel continued: “People living with HIV on effective treatment can not only live long, fulfilled lives after, but they also can’t pass on the virus to others. Effective HIV treatment works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels. This means that the levels of HIV become so low that the virus can’t be passed on.
“Testing is nothing to be feared or embarrassed about. There is nothing embarrassing about making sure your sexual health is a priority.”
National HIV Testing Week runs from Monday 6 to Sunday 12 February and is coordinated by the Terrence Higgins Trust on behalf of HIV Prevention England (HPE). The week encourages people to test for HIV, particularly those from the groups most affected by HIV, including gay and bisexual men and Black African men and women. Anyone can get HIV but people from some groups or parts of the world are more likely to be affected. In particular, men who have sex with men and black African people are disproportionately affected. Of the 4,139 people diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2019, 41% were gay or bisexual men. Of the 1,559 heterosexual people diagnosed with HIV in 2019, 37% were black African men and women.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is working with specific local communities in Buckinghamshire to share information and advice.