Charity teams with council for HIV testing awareness campaign

Mayor John Biggs (left) and his team Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

HIV charity Positive East has teamed up with Tower Hamlets Council for an awareness campaign during National HIV Testing Week.

The week-long campaign, which aims to ‘Give HIV the Finger’ and runs from 17-24 November, will promote the numerous ways people can get tested confidentially.

They will also publicise organisations providing free testing services such as quick fingertip blood tests.

Positive East, London’s largest HIV charity, has also presented Mayor John Biggs with a red ribbon flag to hang in the main reception of the Town Hall. The flag, which marks the 30th Anniversary of World Aids Day on 1 December, represents “remembrance, solidarity and hope.”

Within the EastLondonLines area, Hackney, Lewisham and Croydon will also be taking part in encouraging people to get tested.

Recent data estimated that of the 100,000 people living with the disease in the UK, over 50% experienced some sort of discrimination. This stigma has a detrimental effect on the number of people who seek testing earlier, thus reducing the effectiveness of diagnosis.

Early diagnosis can dramatically alter the effects of HIV, leading to a better quality of life. Late diagnosis, however, can have much more serious consequences – in these cases, death within the first year becomes 10 times more likely.

Yasmin Dunkley, a HIV Prevention and Testing Team Leader at Positive East, told EastLondonLines that “there is no excuse for HIV stigma.”

“Late diagnosis has adverse health outcomes, because stigma prevents people accessing HIV testing. [This] ignorance and fear stops those with HIV from living their best lives.”

Approximately one in eight people in the UK are not aware they have HIV, while a further 43 per cent of people who were found to have the disease were diagnosed late in 2018.

It is also estimated that black communities and gay and bisexual men make up 7 out of 10 people living with HIV in the country. Positive East are actively encouraging these groups to get tested.

Recent data has also shown that 8.1 per 1000 adults in Tower Hamlets live with the disease. These figures represent an approximate 25 percent drop in diagnoses between 2015 and 2016.

This is a drastic change from 2013, when damning research revealed that the number of people with HIV was five time higher in Tower Hamlets than the national average.

The joint campaign between the council and Positive East has emphasised that this is due to early diagnosis rates increasing.

Sir Sam Everington, Chair of NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Incidences of HIV are falling both in Tower Hamlets and the UK. However, early diagnosis is key to supporting patients managing with HIV as a long-term condition.”

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “Locally, alongside our health partners, we’ve made great progress in increasing the amount of people that are getting tested.”

He continued: “We have fantastic, supportive local services that help anyone gain access to a free, confidential test.”

Tower Hamlets Council currently spends £5.5 million on Acute Genito-Urinary (GUM) provision. This includes STI screenings and treatments, as well as contraceptive services.

Positive East runs a free and confidential HIV testing service at 159 Mile End Road each Saturday from 11am to 3pm, and each Wednesday from 5.30pm to 8.30pm.

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