Why Easy Regular Testing Is the Key to HIV Prevention
Londoners tested for HIV more than, and also more frequently than, people anywhere else in the country last year - a move which resulted in a significant drop in HIV diagnoses in the capital.
A record 40 per cent reduction in new diagnoses has been reported across five central London clinics since the ground-breaking HIV prevention campaign by London boroughs, known as Do It London, began.
Following on from this success, the latest phase of Do It London, which encourages HIV testing as part of combination prevention, has been timed to coincide with National HIV Testing Week (18-24 November).
Every three months
Do It London and National HIV Testing Week promote testing because getting tested early means that if you do have HIV, you can start treatment that will enable you to have normal life expectancy. It can also help prevent you from passing it on to others.
“Testing is the bedrock and gateway for HIV prevention,” says Paul Steinberg, lead commissioner of the London HIV Prevention Programme. “For instance, in order to access the PrEP trial, which makes preventable drugs available to HIV-negative people considered at high risk of HIV, a person has to test negative and then test every three months after that to stay on it. In addition, when someone with diagnosed HIV achieves an ‘undetectable’ status, the risk of passing on HIV becomes negligible to non-existent. Testing for HIV and receiving a prompt diagnosis is crucial to this scientifically proven method of prevention.”
In 2016, 5,164 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK, representing an 18 per cent decline from the 6,286 diagnoses reported in 2015. The UK is one of the first countries in Europe to witness a substantive decline in HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men, where the decrease has been most apparent - at 21 per cent.
“When National HIV Testing Week was launched in 2012, testing rates were so low that getting people to test once a year was a big feat,” says Steinberg. “But now that testing is in the general consciousness, we are keen to encourage certain groups - including gay and bisexual men, those using PrEP and those with multiple and casual partners - to test every three months.”
The options for HIV testing have diversified in recent years, so while the mainstay is still going to a sexual health clinic, you can also order a home sampling kit for free. With this method you send off a small blood sample and get your result by text message.
Home testing kits are also available until early next year via the Selphi trial. This works in a similar way to a home pregnancy testing kit, but involves pricking your finger for an instant result.
Running until early next year, Do It London encourages Londoners to recognise the multiplicity of options available to them, including PrEP, as well as using condoms, testing regularly for the virus and - for people who are HIV positive - becoming “undetectable” by taking antiretroviral medication.