HIV charities in east London have launched pop-up test centres in Tower Hamlets and Hackney this week – the two London boroughs with some of the highest rates of HIV nationwide.
Positive East, a Stepney Green-based HIV charity, is offering free testing across libraries, bars and saunas in east London during National HIV Testing Week. The Terrence Higgins Trust launched National HIV testing week and has also organised testing facilities throughout London.
HIV prevalence in Hackney stands at a rate of 7.4 people infected per 1000 people – over three times the national average of two out of every 1000 people.
Paul Fleming, director of fundraising and communications at Positive East, said: “Hackney has a much higher prevalence rate because of demographics. HIV disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men and black Africans.” Both communities make up a notable proportion of the Hackney population.
National HIV testing week aims to highlight the importance of being diagnosed early. Fleming said: “A lack of places to test is not the problem in London, it is encouraging the undiagnosed to get tested and … get treatment.”
According to a Public Health England report released this month, 44 per cent of diagnoses are made when the infection has reached a later stage.
Due to the discomfort that can come with being tested in a clinical setting Positive East have set up additional testing venues and times for gay and bisexual men through “outreach sessions to clubs, venues and saunas across London”.
Positive East has established centres in various non-clinical venues including Hackney Central library, Idea Store in Whitechapel and Idea Store Watney Market.
The intention is to reduce the stigma that can be associated with the infection and being tested. Toby Cullen, prevention worker for gay, bisexual and MSM communities said: “The main objective of the campaign is to encourage people to test, [especially] people who might not think about it as much.”
He added: “We can also help address out-of-date thinking or impressions that people have about HIV and this helps reduce stigma … by [testing] in the public eye it normalises it so people who see it as something scary or unattached from their life or their culture … [can see it as] a normalised part of life.”
Cullen is one of several testers at Hackney library and across east London this week. He said that the exposure of the campaign has led to a few more people being aware and getting tested at the library.
Deprived areas tend to face a higher prevalence of HIV sufferers, a trend evident in London. According to a Public Health England report, nearly half of all diagnoses of the infection “were made in London” in 2014.
It is estimated that 24 per cent of people living with HIV are unaware of their status. Since 2010, the yearly average of new diagnoses remains at around 6,000 people. The infection is most commonly transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex.
There is no cure, however antiretroviral drugs can stop a sufferer from becoming infectious and lengthen their life expectancy. Over 100,000 people have HIV in the UK.
National HIV testing week is supported by Embarrassing Bodies doctor Christian Jessen, and runs from November 20–27. The campaign has received a lot of attention, with #AskDRC trending on Twitter on Monday.
World AIDS Day is on Tuesday, December 1.