National HIV Testing Week is a poignant reminder of how privileged we are today
Terrence Higgins Trust CEO Ian Green marks the beginning of National HIV Testing Week by reminding us of how lucky we are to live in a time of free and quick HIV testing.
This week is National HIV Testing Week, a campaign run by Terrence Higgins Trust on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care to encourage everyone to “give HIV the finger” by getting tested for the virus.
Thanks to advancements in the fight against HIV, testing is no longer something that should be feared. Today, if you test positive, effective treatment means you cannot pass on the virus and can expect to live as long as anyone else. It’s never been easier to get an HIV test and to get a result quickly – all it takes is a finger-prick.
As a gay man who lived through the 1980s, it warms my heart to see this progress – it really would have been unimaginable back then. In 1983, I was 18 years old and exploring my sexuality, discovering who I truly was for the first time, kissing whoever I wanted to kiss away from the eyes of people back home. Life was a beautiful concoction of hedonism, freedom and synth-pop – until HIV raised its ugly head.
There was so much fear about what was being dubbed a “gay plague” – feelings of euphoria and liberation were soon forgotten as we lived in constant fear of contracting HIV. For many years, access to reliable testing wasn’t straightforward. We could never truly know our status for sure, the paranoia and the shame were inescapable.
By the time I was diagnosed in 1996, I had lost a number of dear friends to AIDS-related illnesses. When I received my diagnosis at 30 years old, I was told that I would have up to eight years to live, and it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I grieved for the life I thought I would have, and went through what many before me had experienced.
But that was 25 years ago and I’m still here – I was extremely lucky to be diagnosed at a time when effective treatment for people living with HIV was finally found. I wish my dear friends and all of the others who are no longer with us could have lived to see where we are today. We must never forget those whose shoulders we stand on – who fought for more research, funding and empathy in the face of an epidemic fuelled by homophobia and discrimination.
Although HIV has changed so much since the 1980s, the stigma associated with the virus remains. It continues to deter people from getting tested and knowing their status. That’s why we’ll continue to shout about the incredible advancements we’ve made in the fight against HIV – to eradicate stigma once and for all, we must update the public’s knowledge about the virus.
Anyone can get HIV, therefore I would encourage everyone to get tested. Regular HIV testing benefits each and every one of us. People can live with HIV for a long time without any symptoms, testing is the only way to know your status. The sooner you know it, the sooner you can get on treatment if needed and avoid passing the virus on to anyone else.
Most people will get a negative result, but whatever happens, it’s important to know that anyone diagnosed with HIV in the UK can access free treatment and support.
This National HIV Testing Week, we’re calling on people across England to take control and know their status, and encourage others to do the same. HIV of the 1980s is a world apart from HIV in the UK today – you can live a long and fulfilling life – but it all starts with a test.
Being able to take a free and simple HIV test is a privilege that those gone too soon never had.
You can order a free HIV test at startswithme.org.uk