Mark Tyson, a community development worker for Yorkshire MESMAC, has welcomed news of this month’s HIV Testing Week for England. In a comment piece for PinkNews.co.uk, he shares his thoughts on the need to increase testing for gay and bisexual men.

You may have noticed an increase in the amount of ‘encouragement’ in the press and elsewhere recently for gay men to test more often for HIV. I work for Yorkshire MESMAC, a charity working to prevent HIV transmissions in north and west Yorkshire, and we have been busy organising much of this activity locally, along with supporting those who have already decided to take the test.

HIV prevention services still have our work cut out though as around a third of gay and bisexual men have never tested for HIV and less than a quarter take an annual test. Some have probably just not gotten around to it. Others, however, are motivated to avoid the test by a very simple emotion: FEAR. They are frightened of a positive result for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is being stigmatised and rejected by others. So what should we, their brothers, sisters, friends and lovers be saying to those who are most reluctant to test, to those who have never tested and say things like ‘I’d rather not know’?

Well for a start off let’s give them a break, it is a scary thing this HIV! Though not, perhaps, as scary as some of the alternatives. What we would say is:

1 – You are not alone – fears and concerns about testing for HIV are common and understandable. Please come and talk to us (or your local HIV services) in confidence, about yours.

2 – We are here to support you before, during and after the test, whatever the result.

3 – Peace of mind could be 20 minutes away. Widely available rapid result HIV tests give you a result in 20 minutes, check out where you can get one locally.

4 – If you learn that you are positive, remember, HIV treatments promise a long and healthy life; the sooner you test the more effective they will be.

5 – HIV treatments significantly reduce the chances the virus will be passed on to someone else and you will be less infectious.

So here we are in 2012: we have hope for the future: for the individuals most directly affected, and for our community as a whole.

In fact evidence has been strengthening for some time that currently available treatments used correctly and in innovative new ways, along with the normalisation of regular HIV testing amongst gay men, could in themselves be the only weapons we need to defeat the HIV epidemic.

Be warned though, late diagnosis is behind most of the continuing HIV related deaths in this country.

HIV Prevention England, the newly created national HIV prevention programme for England, has recently launched its ‘National HIV Testing Week’. It will take place in the run up to World AIDS Day from Friday 23 November until the following Friday.

Yorkshire MESMAC will be throwing open the doors to its Testing Times Service that week, you can check out what is happening local to you on the THT website.

So come down and get tested yourself, and why not check out what your friends are intending to do as well. They might just need to know they have your support, whatever the result, to take the action which could preserve their health and well-being. Let’s do this together!

Mark Tyson is a community development worker for Yorkshire MESMAC.