National HIV Testing Week: Give HIV the Finger!

This week has marked National HIV Testing Week. This year’s campaign focusses on promoting regular testing among the most affected population groups, to reduce the number of people diagnosed late and living with undiagnosed HIV.

Why test for HIV?

People can live with HIV and display no symptoms for several years so testing is essential to know your HIV status. Being diagnosed as early as possible helps reduce transmission, allows you to start treatment early and ultimately improves health outcomes. With effective treatment, there is no risk of passing the virus on to sexual partners (Undetectable = Untransmittable).

HIV statistics in the UK remain encouraging – in 2019, new HIV diagnoses were at their lowest level seen in almost 20 years, with significant reductions seen among younger, White, gay and bisexual men in London (1). However, 1 in 20 people living with HIV are currently unaware of their status with 42% (640 of 1540) of new diagnoses in 2020 in England defined as late1 (2).

For the first time in a decade, more heterosexual people are being diagnosed with HIV than gay and bisexual men, with heterosexual people of Black ethnicity2 and heterosexual people born outside of the UK particularly affected;  with 47% and 67% of new HIV diagnoses (from those who acquire HIV through heterosexual contact) occuring in these groups, respectively (3). Crucially, heterosexual men and women are more likely to be diagnosed late (4).

How and where do you test for HIV?

Rapid HIV tests
 20 Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody tests and sample developer solution. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Testing for HIV is a simple finger-prick blood test which can be done at a sexual health clinic, through your GP, through HIV and sexual health charities. Or you can simply order a free self-test kit online just like the fingerprick COVID-19 antibody tests. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, home testing using both lateral flow throat swabs or the self-blood test have become an increasing part of people’s lives. HIV self-testing should become just as routine as early testing will get us closer to eliminating HIV.

Overall, HIV testing coverage across all sexual health services has significantly declined between 2019 and 2020 (2). In parallel, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented strains on healthcare systems and economies, with many people living with lifelong conditions (including HIV) being affected by disruptions to diagnosis, treatment, and care (5).

A need remains to establish HIV testing as standard of care. The UK HIV Commission reports that similar opt-out testing services (similar to antenatal testing) should be put in place in settings such as emergency departments, primary care services and prisons (6). For instance, Imperial College NHS Trust offers a HIV test (with permission) for anyone aged over 16 requiring blood tests whilst visiting emergency departments.

The UK government has pledged a commitment for no new HIV transmissions by 2030 in England (6). Testing is crucial for us to reach the UNAIDS targets so this week, GIVE HIV THE FINGER: a finger-prick is all it takes!

 

Further information

You can follow the latest from #HIVTestingWeek on Twitter: @HIVPreventionEn

National HIV prevention programme for England commissioned by @OHID and @DHSCgovuk and managed by @THTorguk

 

Find out more about PERC’s HIV research

Projects:

Recent papers:

 

This short piece was written by Vas Papageorgiou (@vaspapa_), Flav Coukan (@flvckn) and Jane Bruton at the Patient Experience Research Centre, Imperial College, London (@Imperial_PERC)

 


Footnotes

[1] Defined by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) as CD4 count <350 cells/mm3 within 91 days of HIV diagnosis

[2] Defined as Black African, Black Caribbean and Black Other ethnicity

References

  1. Public Health England. Trends in HIV testing, new diagnoses and people receiving HIV-related care in the United Kingdom: data to the end of December 2019. 2020;14(20): 16.
  2. Martin V, Shah A, Mackay N, Lester J, Newbigging-Lister A, Connor N, et al. HIV testing, new HIV diagnoses, outcomes and quality of care for people accessing HIV services: 2021 report. 2021 Dec p. 51.
  3. UK Health Security Agency. Key populations HIV data tables. 2021 Dec.
  4. Department of Health and Social Care. Towards Zero – An action plan towards ending HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths in England – 2022 to 2025. 2021 Dec [Accessed 9th February 2022]. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/towards-zero-the-hiv-action-plan-for-england-2022-to-2025/towards-zero-an-action-plan-towards-ending-hiv-transmission-aids-and-hiv-related-deaths-in-england-2022-to-2025 [Accessed 9th February 2022].
  5. Papageorgiou V, Cooper E, Bruton J, Petretti S, Pristerà P, Ward H. Insight Report: COVID-19 Community Involvement – “Let’s Talk About…HIV Care”. 2020 Jul. https://doi.org/10.25561/93710
  6. HIV Commission. How England will ends new cases of HIV: final report and recommendations. 2020 [Accessed 6th January 2021]. https://www.hivcommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/HIV-Commission-Full-Report_online_final_pages.pdf [Accessed 6th January 2021].

 

 

 

 

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