A call has gone out to adults of all ages to forget fears of HIV, and take steps to be tested.
Yorkshire MESMAC, one of the country’s largest and oldest sexual health organisations, is encouraging people, especially from black African backgrounds and gay and bisexual men, to take an HIV test, and help lead the way in preventing its transmission.
The call comes in the run up to National HIV Testing Week from Saturday, November 17, when sexual health organisations are joining forces to highlight how medical advances and extensive support means a positive HIV result no longer carries the life-altering impact it once had.
Modern medication means anyone living with HIV can enjoy a full and healthy future without fear of passing the virus on to their partners, ensuring they can continue to enjoy an active sex life and even go ahead and plan a family.
Tom Doyle, CEO of Yorkshire MESMAC, said many people still don’t have all the information they need about living with HIV.
“The evidence is clear; if you are on effective medication for HIV, the virus is suppressed so much that you can’t pass it on. Unfortunately, quite often that message doesn’t get through and people can be quite scared by the thought of being tested.
“However, the prognosis is for a full and normal life span as long as they continue to take the medication they are given. We need everyone to know that the sooner you know your HIV status, the better it is for you and your partners.”
Yorkshire MESMAC tested 230 people during last year’s National HIV Testing Week alone.
Each test takes less than 20 minutes, and involves a chat with an experienced sexual health worker to identify risk factors and to explain more about HIV. “It’s a real holistic approach,” added Mr Doyle. “We make sure that people fully understand what living with HIV is really like and that they are aware of the support available before the test.”
There is then a simple finger prick test and a small amount of blood is taken to be tested. It only takes between five to 20 minutes for the result.
Some people go along with a friend or relative, but the actual testing process and result information is delivered confidentially and in private.
If the result is “reactive”, staff will talk through what it means and offer routes to additional support.
Anyone with a reactive result is then referred to their local sexual health clinic for a confirmatory test and follow-up appointments leading to medication and ongoing support. “We work closely with local sexual health clinics across Yorkshire from Rotherham to Whitby, Hull to Bradford so we can ensure you get a prompt gold standard service,” added Mr Doyle.
There were 5164 people diagnosed with HIV in England in 2016. Government advice to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men is to take a test for HIV and other STIs at least annually and every three months if having sex without condoms with new or casual partners.
Black African men and women are advised to have an HIV test and a regular HIV and STI screen if having sex without condoms with new or casual partners.
Yorkshire MESMAC offers HIV testing all year round at drop-in sessions at its locations in Leeds, York, Bradford, Wakefield, Hull, North Yorkshire and Rotherham.
As well as offering HIV and STI tests, Yorkshire MESMAC provides a wide range of sexual health advice and support, including LGBT youth groups, counselling, HIV support groups and a formula milk service for HIV+ mothers.
Find out more about how and where to have an HIV test or book online at www.mesmac.co.uk