The number of people unaware that they are living with HIV has trebled in the last decade and now approximately 1 out of 3 people with HIV are undiagnosed. Late diagnosis or late presentation, where a person has been positive for a long time and has a low CD4 count (white blood cells that fight HIV), reduces life expectancy, increases health complications and increases the chance that the infection can be passed on as a recently published article in the Guardian showed. In 2011 about half of those testing fall into the ‘late diagnosis’ category and of those that died within one year of diagnosis 93% could be described as late diagnosis , according to NAT. This is particularly the case amongst the over 50s where new HIV cases are increasing fastest and where late diagnosis is more prevalent.
With evidence showing such a strong link between late diagnosis, health problems and reduced life expectency the importance to get tested and to know your status has never been greater. In 2010 an estimated 2.1 million tests were performed. Whilst that might sound like a large number it only about 3.8% of the population. It appears that many people are still not getting tested for a variety of reasons. These might include some of the following barriers:
• Fear of stigma, shame or disapproval attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable,
• Discrimination of people found to be HIV positive
• Fear of being ill/dying
• Fear of a positive result
• Fear of loss of family support
• Concerns of difficulties of keeping or finding a job
• Lack of understanding of the importance of early diagnosis
• Lack of awareness of testing and testing locations
More positively, though, the number of those visiting a clinic who had an HIV test in 2010 was 69% and the number of those leaving a clinic without testing because it wasn’t offered/they refused to takes a rest has dropped from 57% in 2000 to 27% in 2010. More people are getting tested and access to testing locations appears to have improved with HIV tests offered at more sexual health clinics than ever before. As I wrote last week there are also locations you can get tested outside clinics and also talk to our health trainers about any questions you might have regarding HIV, STIs, testing and staying safe. The calendar is always updated and can be seen here.
What sort of tests are offered?
The ELISA / Western Blot – The standard screening test for HIV is a blood test known as the enzyme immunoassay (EIA) or ELISA for short. A small sample of blood must be taken from the person being tested. Typically, two visits are required – one for the blood to be taken and the other for receiving results and counselling/referrals if necessary. The result comes back negative or positive.
Rapid HIV Testing – This is a fingerprick test and takes a very small amount of blood from the finger. The whole process from having a pre-test talk, to taking blood and getting the result normally takes only about 20 minutes. The result comes back negative or reactive.
A rapid HIV test at 56 Dean St clinic, London
Both tests are free and completely confidential. The rapid test requires a blood sample confirmation test if the result comes back REACTIVE.
1. As part of National HIV testing week you can put your postcode in the following website to find out the closest place to get tested: https://www.tht.org.uk/thinkhiv
2. GMFA has a list of testing locations in London for gay and bisexual men in London at the following link: http://www.gmfa.org.uk/londonservices/clinics/index
3. At many of the locations where our health trainers are working across London. See calendar for more information.