23rd November 2012 - A campaign aimed at encouraging more people to get tested for HIV begins today.
The sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust says it's England's first ever National HIV Testing Week. Sexual health clinics have been invited to team up with community based HIV testing services and national and local health promotion initiatives.
A variety of testing and awareness-raising events are planned across England during the week, targeting people most at risk of HIV.
The week is being co-ordinated through HIV Prevention England (HPE), a partnership of community organisations funded by the Department of Health to carry out national HIV prevention work in England among communities at an increased risk of infection.
The aim of this week's campaign is to target two groups of people who are at particularly high risk of getting HIV. They are:
People from African communities
Men who have sex with men
HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus which attacks the body's immune system - the body's defence against diseases. HIV can be passed on through infected bodily fluids, most commonly via sex without a condom or by sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment.
There are around 90,000 people with HIV in the UK - with around a quarter of these unaware that they have the virus.
Health groups hope that by dedicating a week to raise awareness of the importance of getting tested, more people with undiagnosed HIV will be able to start treatment. The Terrence Higgins Trust says that someone who is diagnosed late, after the point at which they should have started treatment, is nine times more likely to die within a year of receiving their diagnosis than someone who tests in good time. Also, undiagnosed HIV is a key factor driving the UK’s HIV epidemic, with the majority of onward transmission coming from those who are unaware that they have the infection.
Genevieve Edwards, director of health improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, says in a statement: "There is a growing consensus that reducing undiagnosed HIV would firmly put the brakes on the spread of infection in this country. We’ve already seen other parts of the world make progress in reducing rates of undiagnosed and late diagnosed HIV, and that’s without healthcare systems as comprehensive as our own.
"It is now fully within our grasp to halt the spread of HIV, but we need more regular testing among high-risk groups to bring down rates of undiagnosed infection. National HIV Testing Week provides a great opportunity to encourage this, and we would welcome any organisation that wants to get involved."
Saving lives, reducing infection
National HIV Testing Week is endorsed by the British HIV Association and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and Aids. Its vice-chair, Simon Kirby MP, says in a statement: "National HIV Testing Week gives us an opportunity to send out the clear message that testing is the cornerstone of the fight against HIV, and that by increasing testing amongst at risk groups we can go a long way to saving lives and reducing infection rates."
The testing week will run until Friday 30th November, a day before World Aids Day. This year the campaign will concentrate on persuading local authorities in England to make HIV prevention programmes a priority as they prepare to take on responsibility for public health in their own areas.
It will also encourage GPs and practice staff to refresh and improve their knowledge of HIV so that they are in a better position to spot symptoms and recommend testing.
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