HIV: Do you know your status? If not, get tested...

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HIV has NOT been cured so it’s important for people who think they may be at risk to get tested.

That’s the message HIV Scotland is keen to promote this HIV Testing Week and in the run up to World AIDS Day on December 1.

The HIV testing event, from November 18 to November 25, aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland knows their status.

Across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – one in six of whom don’t know they are living with the condition.

And the majority of new infections are passed on unknowingly by someone who has not been diagnosed.

So the most responsible thing anyone who has sex or shares needles can do is to find out their status.

To ensure the message is hitting home, NHS Forth Valley has organised several talk and test events.

Open to anyone who has ever been at risk from HIV or hepatitis, experts will be on hand to talk about testing and answer any questions.

Talk and Test will be held at The Castings Hostel in Castings Avenue, Falkirk, today (Thursday) from 2pm to 4pm and the Signpost Recovery office in Callendar Road, Falkirk, tomorrow (Friday) from 1pm to 5pm.

Most HIV tests involve taking a small sample of blood – either from a finger prick or your arm – and some can return results while you wait. Testing is confidential.

However, the fear of an HIV positive diagnosis means many are still too afraid to find out their status.

Pamela Vannan, NHS Forth Valley’s senior health promotions offers for sexual health, is, however, keen to change attitudes.

She said: “In the last 30 years, treatments for people who are HIV positive have totally transformed.

“It’s no longer a terminal illness – it’s a chronic, manageable one.

“We’re trying to raise awareness of this, not only with the public but also among professionals.

“So as well as the testing week events, we have sent out information to GPs.

“A lot of the old messages issued about HIV and AIDS are still out there.

“So we’re trying to ensure everyone has the factual information to hand.”

While HIV is no longer a death sentence, the earlier you are diagnosed the better.

Pamela explained: “You’re more likely to respond better to the anti-retrovirals the earlier you are diagnosed.

“If you are living undiagnosed, you are also potentially putting other people at risk.

“So it’s vital for those who may be at risk to get tested and know their status.”

Pamela is glad that young people no longer view HIV so negatively, but she did sound one note of caution.

“It’s great young people don’t view it with the same stigma but it’s not really on their radar,” she added.

“They seem to think you can be cured by taking a pill.

“Treatments now are very good and can ensure that the virus is undetectable in your blood but people with HIV have to stick to a drug regime for the rest of their lives.

“It is changed days but there is still negativity and fear about being diagnosed.

“And people are less aware of the virus so it’s important for us to get the testing message out there.”

Most importantly, being tested could help put an end to HIV once and for all.

An HIV Scotland spokeswoman explained: “The majority of new infections are passed on by people who unknowingly did so – because they didn’t know their status.

“By testing regularly, people can help to reduce the number of new infections.”

Bibiana Zirra, a health promotions worker with Waverley Care, knows only too well how difficult it is to change attitudes.

She heads up the Forth Valley African Health Project, which is funded by NHS Forth Valley and was launched one year ago. It encourages the African community to get tested.

Bibiana said: “We spent quite a bit of time mapping where African communities lived or socialised. We’re now targeting Falkirk and Stirling’s student population.

“We visit churches, groups and individuals trying to ensure people know HIV is now treatable.

“People are scared to get tested because of the stigma but we’re starting to make an impact. Since May, 44 people have been tested when, in a normal day, no-one would usually have come forward.”

Waverley Care has been delivering HIV prevention and support services to Africans in Scotland since 2004. For information and advice, call 01786 433296, email ahpforthvalley@waverleycare.org or visit www.waverleycare.org.

HIV THE FACTS

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

HIV can affect anyone who has unprotected sex or shares drug injecting equipment – so anyone who has been at risk should get tested.

But stigma and fear can put people off getting a test which, in turn, can result in new infections.

There are myths surrounding HIV which only help stigmatise the disease even further.

HIV cannot be passed on through kissing, hugging or shaking hands. And it is no longer a death sentence – with treatment, it can be managed so people living with HIV can lead a long and healthy life.

As of June 30, 2016 there were 5151 people diagnosed with HIV living in Scotland.

A further 17 per cent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it.

So across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – around one in six of whom don’t know they are infected.

Every day in Scotland, someone learns they are living with HIV – the numbers of new diagnosed infections has remained around the same for the last ten years.

In 2015 there were 361 new diagnoses.

Some 93 per cent of people living with HIV are already on treatment and of those on treatment 94 per cent are undetectable – meaning they cannot pass the virus on.

In NHS Forth Valley, which has a population of around 300,000, 173 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – 139 of whom were receiving treatment.

Of these cases, eight were newly-diagnosed in 2016.

HIV tests are routinely available at GP surgeries and sexual health clinics.

Condoms, lubricant and not sharing needles are still the best ways to protect yourself.