PHE urges South West at risk groups to get tested for HIV following drop in testing rates

(Last Updated On: February 1, 2021)

This National HIV Testing Week (1-7 February 2021), Public Health England (PHE) is urging those most at risk in the South West to get tested for HIV, following a drop in testing rates to below the England average.

It is critical that anyone who is at risk of HIV, such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and black African people get tested regularly. Through early detection and treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART), people with HIV can expect to live as long as people without HIV.

Almost half (43.6%) of those who tested positive in the South West between 2017 and 2019 were diagnosed late. Late stage infections have more than a ten-fold increased risk of death in the year following diagnosis compared to those who are diagnosed early and begin treatment immediately. That’s why National HIV Testing Week is so important, for raising awareness of the benefits of testing early and encouraging those most at risk to get tested.

Norah O’Brien, Sexual Health Facilitator, for PHE South West, said: “We hope that following this HIV Testing Week, there will be a raised awareness of the need for people to book a test if they think they are at risk of developing HIV.

“Regular HIV testing ensures that people who are unaware of their infection are quickly diagnosed and start receiving safe and effective treatment. PHE is proud to support National HIV Testing Week by providing over 20,000 self-sampling kits and we urge those at risk of HIV to get tested regularly.

“Those at risk of HIV and STIs can still access free and confidential services through sexual health clinics during the pandemic. Many clinics offer online testing throughout the year – people can order tests on clinic websites, take them in the privacy of their own home, return by post and receive results via text, phone call or post.

“Ultimately, knowing your HIV status, wearing a condom, practising safer sex and using PrEP or ART where appropriate is vital in protecting your health and the health of your sexual partners.”

As part of the National HIV Testing Week, PHE will be providing over 20,000 self-sampling kits. The tests are designed to enable as many people as possible to be safely tested remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free test kits are also available for syphilis.

The quality of HIV care and treatment continues to be excellent in the UK. In 2018, 94% of people in the UK living with diagnosed HIV and accessing HIV treatment were virally suppressed and cannot pass on the virus.

The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through unprotected sexual contact with a person unaware of their HIV infection. You can protect yourself from HIV through consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners, through using PrEP, or if your partner is living with HIV, through knowing they are on treatment and are undetectable. Condom use will also stop you getting or transmitting other STIs.

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