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HIV prevention: It Starts With All of Us

HIV prevention: It Starts With All of Us
Mambo’s Taku Mukiwa discusses HIV prevention campaign It Starts With Me, what you can do to get involved and why some of the models took part.

The HIV prevention campaign for England, It Starts With Me, has been refreshed. The campaign features real people sharing their personal stories about HIV and appears across England on billboards, public transport, social media and in the press.  But why does it matter?

Approximately 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK, according to Public Health England.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are estimated to make up around 1% of the general population, yet they account for an estimated 43% of those living with HIV in the UK and 55% of all new diagnoses in 2014. Black Africans make up 2% of the UK population, yet they accounted for 20% of diagnoses in 2014.

Late diagnosis remains a significant issue among heterosexuals, particularly those who are black African people – 51% of late diagnoses are among our community. ‘Late diagnosis’ means that you have tested positive for HIV after the virus has already begun to damage your immune system.

One in six people living with HIV in the UK do not know they have it and are therefore likely to pass on the virus.

HIV prevention: Ways to stop HIV

1. Test

Testing is good for you. The sooner you find out you have HIV, the better it is for your health. If you have HIV for a long time without knowing, it can damage your body and even shorten your life. Test negative and you end any worries or doubts.

Testing is good for all of us. Someone taking medication and with an undetectable viral load* cannot pass on HIV. But most people get HIV from someone who doesn’t realise they have it. If more people test and get the medication they need we could dramatically cut the numbers who get HIV in the future.

It is a good idea to test at least once a year (or more often if you have unprotected sex with more than one partner).

Testing is free, fast, confidential and simple – you can even do it at home.

*Viral load is how much HIV is in someone’s body, measured by a blood test. Treatment can push levels of HIV so low that tests show it’s at ‘undetectable’ levels.

2. Treat

Treatment is good for you. We know that the sooner someone with HIV starts treatment, the better it is for their health – it protects them from illnesses which could shorten their life.

Treatment is good for all of us. HIV medication can reduce the amount of HIV in the body to such low levels it is undetectable. Someone who is undetectable cannot pass on HIV to others.

3. Protect

Protection is good for you. Most new infections come from unprotected sex with someone who doesn’t know they have HIV – so aren’t on medication and aren’t undetectable. So we all need to look after ourselves.

Condoms are the best barrier against HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies.

For some of us who are more likely to be exposed to HIV, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can provide extra protection against HIV. PrEP is when someone who doesn’t have HIV takes medication to protect themselves from getting it. PrEP does not protect against other STIs or an unplanned pregnancy.

Protection is good for all of us. Studies have shown that more testing and treatment alone will not be enough to stop the HIV epidemic. We must continue to protect ourselves and those we care about. If we do, we can be the generation who stops the epidemic for good.

4. Take action

You can make a difference:

  • Test at least once a year.
  • Take HIV medication if you’re living with HIV.
  • Protect yourself and others.
  • Tell your friends how – together with protection – testing and treatment can save thousands of us from getting HIV.

Why I’m taking part: Nana

Meet Nana Bonsu, a self-employed 34-year-old from London and one of the real people featuring in the It Starts With Me campaign. Nana explained his motivations for getting involved:

‘I’m very passionate about HIV prevention because I’m from one of the most affected communities and I make it a point to test for HIV every 12 months. I know many people who suffer from the illness or who have died out of a lack of information.

‘I feel personally obliged because someone has to take the responsibility to talk about it. I think the It Starts With Me campaign is a platform where a whole group of people can come together and change the way HIV is viewed.

‘The campaign aims to show that HIV is not something to be feared, but is something each of us can control in our own lives through regular HIV testing and using condoms.

‘If people get tested and they find out that they are positive, they get help, they get treatment. If they test and are negative, they can seek to remain negative.’

Why I’m taking part: Yvette

Yvette from London, a 28-year-old sales executive at VoxAfrica says:

‘I made the decision get involved in this campaign because I am from Rwanda where a lot of people are living with HIV, and I also know people here in the UK who are affected by it.

‘Unfortunately HIV is always linked to stigma, it has always been a taboo. If you talk about HIV around black people they think you are sleeping around. However, it shouldn’t have this stigma – I feel confident about testing and I go to the sexual health clinic regularly, every three months or so.

‘I work for the TV channel VoxAfrica and so when I heard about the campaign I approached Terrence Higgins Trust to see if we could help promote it to our viewers and I’ve been involved ever since. I love the posts by regular people all over the UK talking about testing. Sometimes, you see people you know – last year my colleague had her picture taken wearing the It Starts With Me T-shirt. The real people and real voices are my favourite part of the campaign as it helps people realise we all have a role to play.’

HIV prevention: National HIV Testing Week

This is a week where people from the communities most affected by HIV are encouraged to get tested. It last ran on the week of 19 November 2016.

There are approximately 18,100 people in the UK living with HIV who do not know that they have it. It means that they are not accessing life-saving treatment and care and are at risk of unknowingly passing on the virus.

HIV prevention: how you can get tested

Test at home

You can get tested for HIV at home either through a self testing kit or a postal testing kit.

Self Testing

You perform an HIV test on yourself by collecting a small blood sample from your finger, in private, and get an immediate result that you read yourself. If you would prefer to be told your results by a healthcare professional then this test might not be suitable for you.

It’s important that any positive result using this test is confirmed with a second blood test by a healthcare professional. This can be arranged by contacting your local sexual health clinic, your GP or by calling NHS 111.

Buy a self testing kit online

Postal testing

When you order the postal testing kit, it will be sent to the address you provide in discreet packaging.

After receiving it you collect a sample of blood from your finger, then post it to a laboratory. A week or so later they will contact you with your result.

If the test shows you might have HIV then you’ll need to take a further test at a clinic to confirm the result. You will get help to arrange this and if you do have HIV you will get the help and medical care you need.

Order a free postal test

HIV tests by health professionals

You can get tested by health professionals at your local sexual health clinic, your GP surgery or some local HIV organisations.

The health professional will be able to recommend the kind of HIV test most appropriate for you following a brief chat to discuss why you’ve decided to test, what risks you may have taken and when.

HIV testing is free, confidential and voluntary. No one should be told your result unless you agree.

Find your nearest place to get tested

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Taku works at Terrence Higgins Trust as a Health Improvement Specialist. Originally from Zimbabwe, he has a keen interest in African affairs.

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