A scheme offering thousands of people the chance to find out their HIV status saw a surge in uptake after Prince Harry took a live HIV test on Facebook.
The 31-year-old, who had a negative result, wanted to break down stigma surrounding HIV testing. His efforts appear to have paid off.
A pilot scheme by the Terrence Higgins Trust offering free, at-home HIV testing saw a dramatic increase in orders after the film aired.
A total of 4,750 tests were shipped out to men and women across the UK.
The Terrence Higgins Trust pilot scheme offered people the chance to find out their HIV status privately - in their own space, in their own time, on their terms – by taking a free HIV self test and getting their results in just 15 minutes.
The pilot launched at the end of June to coincide with LGBT Pride and Black Pride in London, particularly targeting men who have sex with men and black African people in the UK – the two groups statistically most affected by HIV.
It was promoted through targeted social media and apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Grindr.
Terrence Higgins Trust saw a high demand after offering the BioSure tests free of charge on a first-come first-served basis.
After the two week marketing period concluded, they had delivered 4,000 tests and continued to receive a steady level of orders per day as the pilot drew to a close, receiving 32 orders on Tuesday 12 July.
But, on Thursday and Friday of the same week, this increased five-fold to 150 per day after Prince Harry took an instant HIV test live on Facebook to normalise testing.
The charity has called the prince’s film a “groundbreaking moment in the fight against HIV”.
Dr Michael Brady, medical director for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We know that one in six people living with HIV do not know that they have it.
“Testing puts you in control and, thanks to treatment, will stop you from getting seriously ill, enable you to live a normal lifespan and prevent you from passing the virus on to anyone else.
“That’s why it’s so important that we continue looking for new ways to make HIV testing more accessible to those most at risk, and why it’s fantastic to see the very tangible and immediate impact of Prince Harry’s support for HIV testing.”
During the pilot, the charity received orders from all over the UK - from Guernsey and Northern Ireland to the Isle of Man.
Half of all these people got in touch with Terrence Higgins Trust to share their result after being prompted to do so in the test pack.
A total of 26 people told the charity they had received a positive result and each of these got a personal call from Terrence Higgins Trust who discussed their result, provided support and ensured that they knew how to access HIV care.
Other insights from the pilot showed:
• People aged 16-80 ordered a HIV test during the pilot. The average age was 31.
• One in five were taking an HIV test for the first time, while 44% had had a test in the past year and 38% had a test over a year ago
• 13% of orders came from people in non-white ethnic groups.
Dr Brady said: “The pilot self testing scheme has been a real success in terms of developing our plans for increasing HIV testing in the future, but also was important for the people who took the test and may not otherwise have known their HIV status. For one in five, this was their first ever HIV test.
“It was particularly interesting that the pilot showed a significant uptake from people in such geographically widespread areas, including rural areas where residents might not have easy access to HIV testing in clinical or community settings, and who otherwise may not have found out their HIV status.”
Imraan Sathar, who took a self test during the pilot, said: “Most clinics are only open during working hours in the week and weekends are always super busy.
“The option to have a testing kit delivered to me and producing a result almost immediately is infinitely more convenient for me.”
Another user Chris agreed: “The HIV home tests came within a few days and I had my results no longer than 30 minutes after opening the package.
“The instructions were clear and understandable, with the online step-by-step video explaining even further. Nothing at all could be misunderstood.”
The charity will now use the results of the pilot to understand how best to use this method of HIV testing and to determine whether it’s something that can be rolled out more widely and sustainably.
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