Celebrities including Annie Lennox and David Furnish have joined Barts Health Trust in a drive to encourage HIV testing in Tower Hamlets this week.
All outpatients at Mile End Hospital and The Royal London Hospital will be offered an HIV blood test in addition to routine testing, in an attempt to increase early diagnosis and reduce the stigma surrounding the virus.
HIV is disproportionately prevalent in Tower Hamlets, with around six in every 1,000 people aged 15-59 infected with the disease, compared to an average of five in 1,000 people in London and two in every 1,000 in England.
The Trust hopes that 2,500 additional patients will be tested as part of the initiative.
Film director and husband of singer Elton John, David Furnish, said: “Knowing your HIV status is so important for your future health and that of your loved ones. The scale of work being done at Barts Health is ground-breaking and historic in the UK, and will hopefully go a long way towards breaking down the taboos that still exist around HIV.”
He added: “If we can make HIV testing a normal part of looking after your health, we can truly envisage an AIDS-free future in the UK.”
Musicians Annie Lennox and Beverley Knight also support the campaign for HIV testing, alone with London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Johnson said: “More than half the total number of people with HIV in the country live in London and a quarter of them are unaware they are positive…I hope the Barts Health scheme will encourage more people to get tested.
“While we still can’t cure HIV, it is not the death sentence it once was – the secret to a long and healthy life is to find out early so you can get the treatment you need.”
An estimated 400 people in Tower Hamlets are living with the virus unknowingly and 16 per cent of new diagnoses in the borough are in the advanced stage, which means that the virus is not being diagnosed early enough.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: “There are a large number of places residents can access free HIV tests throughout the year. If you think you have put yourself at risk of HIB (Haemophilus influenzae type b) you should seek medical advice and have a test as soon as possible.”
Barts Health HIV consultant and lead for HIV-Testing, Doctor Chloe Orkin, said of the drive: “If it is a success, the lessons learned could be relevant to other areas of HIV prevalence across the UK, ensuring more lives are saved and quality of life improved.”
The drive coincides with European HIV testing week from November 22-29 in the run up to World AIDS day on December 1.