It was a traumatic experience when I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2010. I had visited Birmingham that morning for a business meeting and rushed back to London. I was in a hurry as I had to return to the office. I wanted Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), which can be administered within 72 hours of possible exposure to the HIV virus to prevent transmission. At the beginning of the appointment I was told that I needed to take a blood test to ascertain my current status. I was tested in the spring of the previous year and believed myself to be HIV negative. About thirty minutes later the nurse summoned me into a consultation suite to give me the news. The room was large and felt impersonal. The blinds were down and it was dimly lit. I sat in a chair with my back to the wall and the nurse sat opposite. It came as a complete shock to learn that I was HIV positive. I was speechless. I struggled to breathe and was overcome by an aching anxiety from deep within. I turned my head to one side and looked at the floor. The nurse tried to engage me in conversation. I tried to take in what I could. One moment I felt helpless and the next I was determined that I would somehow cope and overcome this. She gave me some basic information on HIV and informed me of the next steps. The nurse left the room and I was alone. I tried to compose myself. I had been sitting on my hands. I breathed slowly, but wave after wave of anxiety washed over me. I wonder how many times she had told someone that they were HIV positive before.
I was excited several weeks ago by the introduction of the new HIV home testing kits. Small, cheap and accurate, these will help combat HIV in the UK. HIV continues to be a problem. UNAIDS have the inspirational target that by 2020, globally, 90% of those with HIV will be diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed will be on treatment and, of those on treatment, 90% will have an undetectable viral load. If this goal is achieved the worldwide HIV epidemic could be over by 2030. The UK meets the second and third components of this test, but nationally only 76% of those with HIV are diagnosed. This underlines the importance of testing for both the spread and treatment of HIV in the UK. The kits are an important asset in this battle, meaning that HIV testing is more accessible. It is now possible to test at home. Those from black African communities, who are perhaps not so comfortable in the STI/GUM clinic setting may prefer the privacy this provides. It is also convenient, especially for those living in rural or isolated areas, where it is not so easy to access testing facilities. A less formal environment will encourage more frequent testing.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is pushing for a number of other measures to be introduced to combat HIV [www.tht.org.uk/get-involved/Campaign/Our-policies]. There needs to be better availability for testing at GP clinics. Furthermore, currently a test taken at a GP's clinic will be entered on a patient's medical record. Testing in non-traditional settings, such as Accident and Emergency wards, needs to be further explored. STI/GUM clinics need the option to recall individuals for testing, particularly those in high-risk groups. This will mean they are tested more frequently. There also needs to be better sex and relationships education (SRE) for young people. Better information is required for schools, to increase knowledge and challenge youth complacency. The Conservative Party is excellent on most LGBT issues, but better provision needs to be made for SRE. They made no mention of SRE in their manifesto and leaving this to the discretion of the school is inadequate.
I was in a state of shock when I received my diagnosis. This would have been exacerbated had it not been for the reassurance of a clinical setting. Without a nurse present at my diagnosis the fear and uncertainty would have been worse. Let a friend or partner know what is going on so that you can seek the emotional support you need if the news is unwelcome. A positive result needs to be followed up quickly with medical advice. Kits do not test for other STIs, so it is also worth emphasising that this is not an alternative to a full check up at the STI/GUM clinic every six months.
My advice is to get testing!