Writing for PinkNews.co.uk at the start of National HIV Testing Week, Will Harris from the Terrence Higgins Trust says we should all think about taking a test in the run up to World AIDS Day.
Let’s be honest. There’s something about the word ‘test’ that conjures up disquieting childhood images. The last-minute cramming, the frantic scribbling of the exam room, and of course the potential for failure. Small wonder, then, that when it comes to that annual HIV test, so many of us are dragging our heels on the way to the clinic.
As gay men in the UK, one of the groups at highest risk of infection, we’re told we should test for HIV at least once annually (that’s if we don’t already know our status). It needs to be more often than that if we have a high number of bed partners, or if we have symptoms of seroconversion illness, but getting ourselves along to the clinic once every twelve months is a good rule of thumb.
Currently, less than a quarter of gay and bisexual men in this country make their annual clinic appointment. As a result, there are now well over 10,000 guys on the scene (or 25% of gay men in Britain with HIV) – including some of you reading this article – who have the virus but don’t yet know they have it. Every day they remain undiagnosed is a day without the treatment they need to keep them fit and healthy, and every night is a night they may unwittingly pass the virus on to somebody else. Most new infections in the UK come from people who haven’t yet tested.
Stateside, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, health agencies have made extraordinary headway in driving down rates of undiagnosed HIV. In San Francisco, thanks to a co-ordinated city-wide testing drive, over half of local gay and bi men took an HIV test last year. The level of undiagnosed infection there is now 6%. This success is not just confined to Castro Street either; ever since the gay community took up the message and put some welly behind it, hospitals and health services across the city have reported an upsurge in requests for HIV tests from the general population too.
That kind of progress can’t happen overnight, but San Francisco is proof that it can happen. At Terrence Higgins Trust, we believe that driving down rates of undiagnosed HIV is one of the single most important things we (and you) can do to halt the spread of infection on the gay scene. In fact, we and our partner organisations believe it so much that we decided to launch England’s first ever National HIV Testing Week, starting today (Friday 23 November).
There are lots of ways you can get involved, whether it’s supporting a local event, talking to your friends about testing, or helping spread the word on Facebook and Twitter (using the hashtag #HIVtestingweek).
But if you don’t know your status, the most important thing you can do is, quite simply, to test. If you haven’t been to the clinic within the last twelve months, or if you know you’ve put yourself at risk, you can find a list of your nearest clinics and testing services at www.thinkHIV.org.uk. So what are you waiting for? This is a test you can only fail by failing to take it.
Will Harris works for the Terrence Higgins Trust.