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    HIV Testing Week: What Is It & What Is The Importance Of A HIV Blood Test?

    HIV is a condition that is often stigmatised, even still to this day. People may still look at HIV with a majorly negative outlook, despite the development of understanding and treatment that has occurred in the last 40 to 50 years. This is because of a lack of understanding and in some cases a lack of interest in learning about it. As of 2019, there are over 100,000 people in the United Kingdom that currently have HIV. Unfortunately, 1 in 16 people living with the virus in the UK do not even know they have it. This is why HIV Testing Week is so important. In this article, we will outline what HIV Testing Week is, and how important it is to get an HIV test if you believe you could have been exposed to the virus. 

    What is HIV Testing Week?

    HIV Testing Week is a yearly awareness campaign that is used to draw attention to the importance of HIV testing. It was initially started by HIV Prevention England, often shortened to HPE, which is the national prevention programme for HIV in England. HPE is also part of the Terrence Higgins Trust, the leading HIV and sexual health charity in the UK. HIV Testing Week was created to promote regular HIV testing for those who are at the most risk. This is to try and reduce the number of people that are living with undiagnosed HIV. The main aims of HPE are:

    • Increase HIV testing to reduce undiagnosed and late diagnoses

    • Promotion of condom use as a safer sex strategy

    • Promote other evidence-based safer sex and biomedical HIV prevention interventions

    • Raise awareness of the role of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the context of HIV acquisition and transmission

    • Reduce levels of HIV-related stigma within affected communities and more widely.

    When is HIV Testing Week in 2023?

    HIV Testing Week happens on an annual basis.  In 2023, HIV Testing Week begins on the 6th of February and lasts until the 12th of February 2023. The very first week was the 23-30th of November 2012 which was also the week running up to World AIDS day on December 1st. Throughout the week, HIV Prevention England will be running campaigns to promote testing in communities that are most at risk of HIV, as well as to all other people in order to raise awareness. 

    What is the strapline for HIV Testing Week in 2023?

    In 2023, the strapline for HIV Testing Week 2023 is ‘I Test.’ This replaces the strapline of the last five Testing Weeks which was ‘Give HIV The Finger’. To find the new strapline, HIV Prevention England used focus groups and audience insight to find a strapline that encapsulated the message they wanted to get across. On their promotional material, the strapline is followed by a line of text that describes why that person would test, in an attempt to appeal to a number of different audiences as well as to raise awareness of testing itself. 

    Who is at the highest risk of contracting HIV?

    There are certain groups of people that are more at risk of contracting HIV than others, and National HIV Testing Week aims to improve awareness of HIV testing specifically for these groups. The majority of HIV infections are caused by unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone that has the virus. HIV is primarily spread via contact with infected bodily fluids which are very prevalent during sexual intercourse. Infections can also be spread through unprotected oral sex, however, the chances of this are low. The risk of this happening increases if the person giving oral sex has a mouth ulcer, if their gums are bleeding, or if they have sores in their mouth. HIV can be passed to a person giving oral sex if the person receiving is infected. The most at-risk groups of people are as follows:

    • Someone whose partner has been diagnosed with the virus, or those whose partner carries the virus without knowing.

    • People who live in areas with a high HIV rate.

    • Men who have unprotected sex with men and women who have unprotected sex with men, who also have unprotected sex with men. 

    • People who share sex toys with people with HIV.

    • People who inject drugs/share needles with people who inject drugs.

    • People who have unprotected sex with those who inject drugs. 

    • Babies born from parents who have HIV.

    It is a good idea to use PrEP medications if you are at a high risk of contracting HIV. These treatments can be used in order to help prevent the spread of an HIV infection, as well as to help treat HIV infections alongside other HIV medications. 

    Video Guide: What is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)?

    How do you get tested for HIV?

    Getting tested for HIV is a simple yet incredibly important process if you are in the most at-risk group of people. People may be confused about how to get an HIV test if they feel that they may have been exposed to the virus. Fortunately, it is relatively simple to get tested. Free testing is generally available from sexual health clinics, your GP, or HIV testing centres that are run by the Terrence Higgins Trust. Some private clinics also offer HIV tests, however, you will usually need to pay for these. 

    HIV self-testing kits can also be ordered for home delivery for free HIV from the NHS free testing service. The free test from the NHS involves a finger prick to obtain a small blood sample. The Terrence Higgins Trust offer a testing service at a cost of £15 however people with lower income can request a test for free. If your test result comes back negative and a couple of months have passed since potential exposure to HIV it is likely that you are negative. If your test result is positive you must follow the instructions given to you with the test. Typically you will require further testing to confirm a positive result, after which you will begin to have treatment. 

    Why is regular HIV testing important?

    If you fall under the group of people that are most at risk of contracting HIV then the importance of regular HIV testing cannot be understated. Ensuring you are regularly testing when you may have been exposed to HIV will ensure that the virus is detected early so you can receive treatment as soon as possible. Managing an HIV infection is vital as it can slow its progression and can make it undetectable. If the virus is undetectable then it is unlikely that you will be able to pass it on to anyone else.  

    How can I support National HIV Testing Week?

    HIV Prevention England has encouraged people to get involved with National HIV Testing Week in various different ways. They have encouraged corporations to help promote the week to help spread awareness of the importance of regular HIV testing. You can also donate to the Terrence Higgins Trust to support the work they do for HIV and HIV testing.

    Sources

    https://www.hivpreventionengland.org.uk/2023/01/09/get-ready-for-national-hiv-testing-week-2023/

    https://www.hivpreventionengland.org.uk/campaigns/national-hiv-testing-week/

    https://sexualhealthbucks.nhs.uk/latest/save-the-date-6-12-february-2023/

    https://twitter.com/hivpreventionen?lang=en

    https://hperesources.org.uk/catalogue/category/downloadable-assets/materials

    https://www.tht.org.uk/our-work/community-projects/hiv-prevention-england

    https://www.startswithme.org.uk/national-hiv-testing-week/

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