World AIDS Day – Be aware

Local GPs are urging Tower Hamlets residents to show their support this week for World AIDS Day, which took place on 1 December.

Designed to raise awareness and understanding of the HIV virus, the annual event followed a European-wide HIV Testing Week (Friday 22 to Friday 29 November) where people across the country were encouraged to get tested for the virus.

In the UK, around 100,000 people are currently living with HIV. About 1 in 4 of these people are undiagnosed and are unaware that they are HIV positive – making it much more likely that they pass on the virus than someone who has been tested and is receiving treatment.

As well as helping to protect any sexual partners from potential infection, an early diagnosis can significantly improve the effectiveness of treatments available. It also greatly improves the chances of managing the infection and of living a healthy life with normal life expectancy. Overall, people diagnosed late have an eleven-fold increased risk of death within one year of HIV diagnosis compared to those diagnosed promptly.

The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test. The most common form of HIV test is a blood test, in which a small amount of blood is taken and examined in a laboratory. These tests can provide a reliable result four weeks after exposure to HIV.

It is also possible to have a test through saliva or a dried blood spot test. For these tests, a sample of saliva is taken using a mouth swab or a finger is pricked and a spot of blood is blotted onto filter paper. These tests do not detect HIV as rapidly as a blood test in a laboratory.

HIV tests are available free and confidentially from:

  • sexual health (GUM) clinics 
  • HIV testing centres such as Terrence Higgins Trust centres (where rapid tests are available)
  • an antenatal clinic (if you are pregnant)
  • some contraception and young people’s clinics 
  • Your GP

All information regarding a visit to a sexual health clinic will be confidential and your GP will not be contacted without permission. Tests by a GP will be confidential but will be recorded on patients’ medical records.

More information can be found from NHS Choices, including how to find the nearest sexual health clinic.

Find out more information on World AIDS Day and how you can show your support.

To coincide with HIV Testing Week, Barts Health NHS Trust is backing a unique campaign to promote early diagnosis and treatment. Between 25 and 29 November, all outpatients at the Trust’s six hospitals in the east London area will be offered an HIV test. This initiative, which is backed by local community groups, politicians and celebrities such as Annie Lennox and Beverly Knight, will enable as many as 2,500 patients to get tested.

Dr Sam Everington, Chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and a local GP, said:

“More than half the total number of people with HIV in the country live in London and as many as a quarter of them are unaware they are positive. It’s vitally important that people get themselves tested. An early diagnosis greatly improves your chances of living a normal, healthy life, as well as helping to protect any sexual partners from potential infection. It’s for this reason that we’re urging everyone at risk in Tower Hamlets to get tested today.”