The National AIDS Trust has launched a new report on the role of partner notification after diagnosis with HIV in the drive to increase HIV testing and early diagnoses.

‘HIV Partner Notification: a missed opportunity?’ examines the process of contacting sexual partners of an individual diagnosed with an STI, including HIV, and advising them they’ve been exposed to infection and encouraging them to get tested.

The charity said some audits show up to 37% of partners traced and tested through partner notification were newly diagnosed HIV positive as a result.

Believing that partner notification has not kept apace with new technology, NAT recommended:

  • Sexual health clinics should use online technology such as messaging via gay dating websites and smart-phone apps within their partner notification processes.
  • Clear national standards for HIV partner notification should be introduced, including HIV-specific guidance for healthcare workers (as is done for other STIs such as chlamydia).
  • Clinics should be properly commissioned and resourced to do high quality partner notification and should look to incorporate further support for patients around HIV disclosure.
  • Communities most at risk of HIV such as gay men and African communities should be told about the benefits of partner notification.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust) said: “HIV is still a highly stigmatised condition and this can make it very difficult for a person diagnosed with HIV to share their status with other people, particularly previous sexual partners.

“We know how effective HIV partner notification can be in getting people who may be at risk tested and diagnosed but it is not clear that this message is well communicated to patients. Most people with HIV, when they understand the benefits of partner notification, are keen to do the right thing but they might not necessarily know how.

“This report puts the spotlight on why we need to start taking HIV partner notification seriously, as well as the various ways we can shake up and modernise the current system – in order to utilise it as an effective tool for testing, diagnosis and prevention.”

The report refers to the thousands of Gaydar users who signed up for the Sexual Health Messaging Service pilot scheme launched in November 2011. The scheme currently operates with ten clinics across the UK, sending messages to the former partners of visitors who have opted in to use the system and tested positive for an STI recommending they have themselves tested.