THE BLOG

HIV Tests - No Longer So Testing

20/05/2014 12:40 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 10:59 BST

In the quest to normalise HIV, every little helps.

Is this why Tesco, which makes such great play of those three little words in its advertising and marketing, is now offering tests at its central Slough store? They started on Monday May 19 for a six week period.

One suspects that if there was a cost involved (there isn't), you'd be able to take one and get another one free. TOGOF, if you prefer. Wholly appropriate because it sounds suspiciously like Tug Off and as everyone knows masturbation is perhaps the safest form of sexual activity you can engage in.

Whether this example of benevolence and social awareness, from an organisation that's not always known for either, will have shoppers flocking to one of its larger establishments is difficult to judge.

Regrettably, 'this week at Tesco, sexual health screening' is never going to be quite as enticing to their typical customer as 'this week at Tesco, double Clubcard points on more than 2,000 products'.

Now if there were triple Clubcard points on offer, then maybe.

To be honest, this could all just come across as a giant PR stunt to deflect attention from another set of poor financial figures. Will there ever be a cure for cynicism?

However, while it's easy to be scornful of the motives at play here, one shouldn't be too mocking.

With a fifth of the positive population- a staggering 20,000 out of 100,000 - still unaware of their condition, any push that can bring to light the status of even a single individual has got to be a good thing.

Besides, it could be argued that a branch of the nation's biggest supermarket is a considerably more relaxing environment than your average GUM clinic. Those who has ever visited such a walk in centre will know that the atmosphere can hardly be described as relaxing. (Unless you consider the viewing room of Ohio State Penitentiary, waiting for an execution to take place, as calming).

You're asked to fill in a form answering some pretty personal questions and stating the exact reason for your visit. Everyone sits staring down at their knees waiting for their name to be called. All the time they're unable to look up just in case they recognise someone they might know. Or worse still, someone they might have had a sexual encounter with.

The initiative at Tesco Extra - apparently it will be extended to other branches if the trial proves successful- is being run by Thames Valley Positive Support.

Thankfully, those who wish to put their mind at rest or have their worst suspicions confirmed needn't worry about having their result broadcast over the public address system in between "All bakery goods currently marked down by a half" and "Will the owner of the green Renault Clio- registration number EU26 PZT- please return to their vehicle immediately?"

Anyone wanting to be seen will have their consultation take place in a private room, presumably with the store's security cameras firmly switched off.

A mouth swab will then be rubbed along the upper and lower gums.

This takes a minute and the results will be ready in 20 minutes - the longest 20 minutes of your entire existence- during which time you can discuss any concerns you have about the potential ramifications of the impending result with a trained professional. (Medications have come on leaps and bounds in the last 5-10 years and are only likely to do the same in the next. HIV is most definitely not the nightmare scenario it once was).

Alternatively, during your eternal wait, you can always discuss the effects a long hot summer will have on the price of fruit and vegetables and what you're going to cook for supper this evening.

It should be noted that in a regular, more established NHS clinic, you'll get the result of your blood test in only 60 seconds, thereby putting you out of your anxiety a hell of a lot faster.

Of course, the important thing to remember is that wherever you have your test done and whatever the outcome, you've actually taken the incredibly brave and bold decision to find out your status.

This is crucial not merely for your health, but for the health of previous and future partners.

The upshot is that the whole experience, like many experiences in life, is nowhere near as scary and frightening as you think it will be.

It certainly wasn't for me. And it certainly won't be for you.

Who knows if the same can be said for an angioplasty at Asda or a small intestinal endoscopy at Sainbury's.