Tag Archives: Terrence Higgins Trust

Raise awareness of HIV and Poverty in your area

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Remember this article where we mentioned that thousands of people with HIV have been left struggling in poverty by the Government’s welfare reforms?  (Some people can’t even afford basic food which is need to take with HIV medicines).

In that, we shared the Terrence Higgins Trust report on HIV and Poverty, it’s worth a read, click here for your copy of the report.  It’s based on evidence gathered from the THT’s Hardship Fund and The Food Chain.

The factors that push people into poverty are varied and complex. Having HIV can contribute to a deteriorating financial situation. In turn financial hardship can lead to more significant health problems for those living with HIV.

Local councils, including Leicester City and Leicestershire County councils have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the people in their community. It is vital that they know about the needs of people living with HIV in our area so that they can factor them into their strategies for health and support.  They need our support, otherwise how can they plan their budgets effectively if we don’t inform them of the issues we face locally?

You can help raise awareness by emailing your Cabinet Member for Health to tell them about the HIV and Poverty Report and ask them whether the needs of people living with HIV are a part of their planned health and support services.

The Terrence Higgins Trust have created a simple email which you can send to your Cabinet Member for Health. Simply complete your details an email will be generated which you can customise before sending.

So before you click away and read another post, or share this to your networks.. ask yourself, “What can I do“? – You can click here and email your local Cabinet Member for Health! We encourage you do so.

Thanks,

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Thousands of People in the UK Living with HIV Cannot Afford Basic Food, Required to Help Treatment

Empty cuboards

Thousands of people with HIV have been left struggling in poverty by the Government’s welfare reforms – with some unable to afford the basic food they need to fight their condition.

The situation is now so critical that in some cases doctors are having to prescribe food supplements to ensure that patients’ medication works.

A national hardship fund for people with HIV/Aids, run by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), registered a 63 per cent increase last year in those needing emergency help because their benefits had been stopped.

HIV experts described the situation as “truly alarming”, saying it was “nothing short of a disgrace” that seriously ill patients in modern Britain were having their treatments compromised by hunger. HIV medication can be less effective if taken without food.

Changes to sickness benefits introduced by the coalition – alongside other welfare reforms such as the so-called bedroom tax – have left many HIV patients significantly worse off.

Stringent criteria for employment support allowance, assessed by the now notorious Atos Healthcare, means that many have been moved off sickness benefits altogether. The replacement of the disability living allowance with the personal independence payment is also affecting growing numbers.

David Asboe, chair of the British HIV Association and a consultant in HIV medicine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: “Before the past three or four years, I never saw people coming in and saying they didn’t have enough money for food. Now I’ve seen several people in my clinic where the fact that they’ve had a decrease in their income, related to benefit changes, means they can’t afford regular food.

“Sometimes I have to prescribe food supplements to help them. If this is one of the unintended consequences of benefit changes, I think it’s very important that it’s looked at.”

Explaining the medical importance of food to HIV patients, Dr Asboe said: “We know that, in general, if people have poor nutrition, that has a detrimental effect on their immune system. HIV suppresses the immune system, so nutritional problems can exacerbate the effects of it.

“About 70 to 80 per cent of all treatments for HIV have to be taken with a meal. That’s critical to the success of these treatments, and they have to be taken regularly and on time. Taking [medication] with food optimises the absorption and has an impact on effectiveness. There’s one treatment that has to be taken with a 400-calorie meal; there is evidence that, if you take it on an empty stomach, that compromises the treatment.”

Of the 2,179 people given an emergency grant of £250 by THT last year, 919 were on benefits. Overall, there was a 15 per cent rise in applications between 2012 and 2013, but the numbers saying they needed emergency help specifically because their benefits had been cut jumped by 63 per cent.

Just under half of all those given help needed it specifically because they could not afford food.

Pamela Nash MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and Aids, said: “These findings are truly alarming, and hopefully will send shockwaves through Whitehall. I find it deeply saddening that those with HIV in our country are not only having to deal with their condition, but now have the added burden of worrying about their finances.”

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, who is also a member of the HIV parliamentary group, said: “People with HIV often have to deal with a range of physical, emotional and social problems. It’s absolutely wrong that, on top of that, so many are also being forced into poverty by the coalition’s heartless austerity agenda.”

Paul Ward, THT’s chief executive, said: “What we’ve seen is that progressively more people have had their cases reviewed and, as a consequence, are no longer entitled to benefits at all. For many people with HIV, this isn’t a question of not having enough money to go to the cinema or buy some clothes. It means they have not got enough money to eat properly. For those who are very unwell, it means they struggle to make appointments simply because they don’t have money for the bus fare.

The Terrence Higgins Trust have published a report which provides an insight into the reasons why some people with HIV are living in poverty.

The HIV and Poverty report looks at applications to the their Hardship Fund and why people applied for financial assistance. The report shows that the majority of people applying to the fund were applying for basic living costs including food, clothing and other basic needs.

hiv&poverty

To get a copy of your report, click the icon to the left

In 2012 46 per cent of people given grants had a disposable income (after housing costs) of less than £50 a week and 35 per cent had no disposable income at all. Common drivers were related to unemployment, restricted income, immigration status, family relationships and a lack of support within the community.

“The numbers in this report should act as a warning sign at all levels of government that people with HIV are not receiving the level of support needed to meet the most basic of costs. In an age when highly effective treatments mean that people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, it is nothing short of a disgrace that HIV and poverty should still so often go hand in hand.”

 

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How older people with HIV are facing the future

ageing (1)

In common with many people diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, Danny West thought he had just months to live.  He became ill, watched friends die and prepared for his own demise at the hands of what was then an unknown virus.

Nearly 30 years on, Danny, who is from London, is one of the longest-surviving people in the world with HIV.  He is part of a growing group of around 19,000 adults aged over 50 receiving care for human immunodeficiency virus in the UK, many of them kept alive thanks to improvements in drug treatments.

Recently, the UN called for the “ageing” of the HIV epidemic to be taken seriously. It wants more services to be made available to this age group, who are now facing old age.  For many, life with HIV has been an emotional and physical rollercoaster.

Danny says he never thought he’d see 50.

“I was given a year at most. I was 24, I’d just got my social work qualification and my foot on the career ladder, and it was all whipped away in one moment.

“There was no treatment then. Over the next two years after my diagnosis, all of my peers died. Everyone went down like cards. My community was gone.”

Danny has never been able to get a mortgage and does not have a pension. Despite working in the public sector and for HIV charities for many years, he has no idea what the future holds.

Many older people with HIV have serious money worries “I haven’t prepared myself psychologically for growing older. My body is ageing faster than a normal person’s. I’ve got arthritis and osteoporosis and I live in constant physical pain.  But the real issue for me is poverty – I don’t know how I will cope financially.”

A recent study of people over 50 living with HIV by the Terence Higgins Trust, found that Danny’s concerns were not unusual.

The 50 Plus report showed that older people with HIV are financially disadvantaged compared with their peers and have serious worries about money, poor health, housing and social care.

Lisa Power, policy director at THT, says this is because many people became ill and had to give up work after their diagnosis. Others sold up, cashed in their pensions, went round the world and waited to die.

HIV Over 50

As “brilliant” anti-retroviral drugs started prolonging lives, she says, “benefits were cut for people who hadn’t made provision for their old age, leaving many of the older HIV group living on a basic state pension“.

“We found huge poverty in our study, particularly among those who thought they had a death sentence. Now we’re coming round to understanding that people with HIV have a normal life expectancy.”

For those diagnosed in recent years, the treatment is straight forward and they can carry on working and raise a family. But for those diagnosed back in the 1980s, the HIV journey has been considerably more traumatic.

Doctors still do not yet fully understand the impact of HIV on the ageing process.  Some health problems in older HIV patients may be related to the early treatments they received, which had significant and sometimes toxic side effects, rather than the virus itself.

But there is generally thought to be an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, strokes and cancers in people with HIV.

Dr David Asboe, a consultant in HIV medicine and sexual health at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and chairman of the British HIV Association, says more than half of the HIV patients he sees are over the age of 50, and some are even in their 80s.

“The earlier they are diagnosed, the earlier we can get them into treatment and that’s important. If there is a delay then that’s when the mortality risk increases.”

The psychological effects of HIV on this group are all too obvious, he says.  “They should be able to work, but there is a real loss of confidence, and it can change the way people consider relationships with their family and wider society.”

Danny has recently been forced to moved into damp, cold social housing in an area where he knows no-one, where he is facing the future with HIV alone.  “I don’t have a picture of what I will be doing in the next 10 years. There are lots of uncertainties and unknowns.

“I live in fear of ill health, poverty and isolation. That’s what I lie in bed thinking and worrying about.”

HIV charities say that healthcare professionals, such as GPs, need to understand more about HIV and home carers should be given more training. Too often, patients don’t have the confidence to disclose their status to their doctor or talk about their problems.  Danny says that previously any health problems he had would have been dealt with by a specialist consultant but changes mean that he now has to see his GP first for everything, which is unhelpful and frustrating.

According to Lisa Power, Policy Director for the Terrence Higgins Trust, there are still too many myths surrounding HIV and more public awareness is needed.

“One group thinks there is a cure for it, another thinks it’s a death sentence. The reality is that people with HIV have a managed, chronic condition – but they also have a life.”

Story courtesy of the BBC News Health

You can download a copy of the national study of ageing from the Terrence Higgins Trust here.

You may also be interested in: Many Older People with HIV Face ‘Age-Related Stigma’ (lass.org.uk)

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Working with HIV: A Fading Taboo?

hivstigma

Three months ago, the government lifted the ban that stopped medical staff with HIV performing certain dental and surgical procedures. The move was the latest step towards stamping out discrimination against people with HIV. But how far are we from HIV in the workplace being a forgotten taboo?

Under new rules announced by the Department of Health in August, healthcare workers with HIV will be allowed to undertake all procedures if they are on an effective combination of anti-retroviral drug therapy.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, celebrated the news. For her, many of the UK’s HIV policies were designed in the 1980s and had been left behind by scientific advances and effective treatments. According to her, “the risk to patients is ‘negligible’ now and HIV positive people will be able to partake in a number of tasks, including dentistry and surgery”.

The recent announcement is just one positive development in the many battles against discrimination that people living with HIV and organisations and individuals supporting them have fought over the years. For many, working in a fair, non-discriminatory environment, or even finding a job, has not been easy.

Employers’ responsibilities
Nearly a decade ago, Malcolm Bryant, who now works as a lawyer in the Ministry of Justice, was applying for new jobs. He had been diagnosed HIV positive a few months earlier and felt somewhat uncomfortable coming out in the open about his condition. When one of his applications required him to be specific about any medical conditions he might have, he decided to reveal he was HIV positive.

The recruiters asked him for a face to face meeting and then to bring a doctor’s letter providing more information about his condition. Three weeks later they offered him the job. “There seemed to be a delay in my start date compared to other new recruits with whom I had the interview; that always made me feel a bit behind. That was the first time I felt I was treated slightly differently,” he remembers.

Malcolm’s anecdote is just one among many. Although HIV stories are not as frequent in the media as they were decades ago and awareness campaigns do not seem to be as visible as they used to be, it does not mean that people living with HIV do not face day-to-day challenges when it comes to discrimination in their workplaces. Lack of knowledge, prejudices and uneasiness with the stigma that was associated with HIV in the 80s are some of the factors that can still lead to discriminatory practices.

In 2009, the National Aids Trust (NAT) carried out research in partnership with City University, which included a survey of over 18,000 HIV positive gay men in employment. Over half of the respondents, employed across a diverse range of sectors, testified that HIV had no impact on their working life.

The most recent development in UK national legislation regarding disabled people and people with AIDS is the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005. Under the Equality Act, it is now illegal for employers to ask people to disclose their health status before they have been offered a job.

Furthermore, the act protects anyone who has, or has had, a disability, along with anyone being treated less favourably because they are linked or associated with a disabled person. The act defines a disabled person as “someone who has a physical or mental impairment, which has substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

An additional development concerns the ban on direct discrimination; the previous law protected disabled people when the discrimination was taking place in the workplace. Now, the ban on discrimination applies to other areas such as access to goods and services.

Discrimination comes in many forms
Jackie Redding, spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), a charity providing HIV and sexual health services in the UK since the 80s, explained to Safety Management the various types of discrimination that may occur in working life. “Direct discrimination is when someone treats a person less favourably than others on the grounds of their medical status. Indirect discrimination occurs when someone, for example an employer, has a generic policy in place, which is applied to everyone, but in fact restricts a disabled person from undertaking a particular task.” She clarifies: “If there was a rule banning people from wearing something on their head, then this would be indirect discrimination against Muslim women.”

Jackie defines associate discrimination as “a situation where an employer treats someone unfavourably because they are associated with someone who is protected under the Equality Act 2010. For example, if his or her son is homosexual or if people think he is. ”The act protects people from every form of discrimination by rendering unfavourable treatment of any sort as unlawful.”

Suzi Price, communications manager at NAT, refers to two other forms of discrimination, less known but equally significant. “It is illegal if a management practice or workplace policy results in unfavourable treatment of an individual member of staff living with someone with HIV for a reason connected to their HIV status; this is discrimination arising from disability.” As she clarifies, “this type of discrimination is similar to indirect discrimination but legally distinct from it; discrimination arising from disability only applies if the employer knows about the employee’s HIV status, and the policy deliberately aims at their unfavourable treatment”.

Suzi describes perceptive discrimination as a situation where “the employer treats someone differently assuming it is HIV positive, because, for instance, he or she is homosexual or coming from a country with a high HIV prevalence”.

The 11ft tall ‘Tay’, the UK’s first AIDS memorial in Brighton. Photograph: Dominic Alves

Employers’ duties

There are some actions that employers need to implement in order to create a discrimination-free working environment, when there are HIV positive people among the staff. The employer needs to ensure that the workplace provides a supportive environment for people living with disability, and especially with AIDS.

Therefore, the first step for the employer is to familiarise themselves, if they have not done so, with the Equality Act 2010. Furthermore, an employer has to make some ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate HIV positive people. NAT describes reasonable adjustments as “those changes to the workplaces or the work practices, which remove a substantial disadvantage that a disabled person might experience because of their disability”.

Malcolm explains that people with HIV need to take some time off work for hospital visits and medication treatments, so employers need to give allowances and make adjustments, such as flexible hours or some leave for a clinic appointment. “Surely that is a better way of managing staff, rather than having people taking time off sick due to stress or due to their face blotches after a medication treatment,” he says. Malcolm would urge all employers to check their procedures and also make sure that during the recruitment process they do not put off applicants by being too intrusive with questions about their health.

But he also thinks it is convenient for colleagues and members of staff to be aware of HIV positive employees’ health condition. “People are not as obsessive now and they understand the implications of one’s condition,” he says. “If your colleagues are not aware then you keep wondering ‘What if I cut myself and someone comes to help me?’ It is very relieving to know that people know.”

Side effects of medication is another aspect that employers need to take into account when they manage HIV-positive people. Side effects can include fatigue, nausea, sleep disturbance and diarrhoea, which sometime require additional reasonable adjustments at work.

Actual risk of transmission
According to the NHS, the body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, blood and lining inside the anus. HIV cannot be transmitted through spitting, contact with unbroken, healthy skin, being sneezed on, sharing towels or crockery or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

THT explains that the actual risk of transmitting HIV in the workplace is minimal. This is because HIV is very fragile outside of the body and dies very quickly in the air. The infected bodily fluid would need to get into an open and bleeding wound in order to infect a person. If the wound is not bleeding, it is sealed; nothing can get into it. Also, if the wound is bleeding out then it’s very hard for any fluid to get in.

HIV cannot be transmitted via anything other than bodily fluid, so there is no risk around food preparation or sharing cups or crockery.

Employers working on awareness and prevention
In 2001, L’Oréal Group, in partnership with UNESCO, initiated a preventive education programme, called ‘Hairdressers against AIDS’. The programme has spread over 36 countries and reached out to more than 1.5m hairdressers so far. The programme was born in South Africa, where AIDS is a prevalent issue and a safety risk for the industry. The official launch of the campaign was in 2005, when UNESCO put together a questionnaire and a film to be incorporated into all education and training of potential hairdressers. The Group paid for part of the course.

L’Oréal has also created an activity-based day on 1 December and has developed a fund, the profits of which go to charities such as the NAT and Children with AIDS. The group also uses the red ribbon (universal symbol of AIDS awareness) as its badge and distributes it to all staff, in all events.

Naomi Scroggins, communications director, L’Oréal Professional Products (UK), feels proud of the work done by the group worldwide: “If we could just touch people and remind them that HIV is still around, that would be good for us, it is our way of helping to create awareness and accordingly help those who live with AIDS.”

Employers’ duties (guidelines from Terrence Higgins Trust)

  • Ensure there is a robust policy for supporting people who have chronic conditions, including HIV
  • Ensure that all staff have information and training around HIV
  • Support staff who have HIV if they choose to disclose it, and deal with inappropriate behaviour and comments robustly
  • Respect people’s right not to disclose
  • Help end stigma and discrimination by supporting World AIDS Day (1 December).

HSE guidance on managing incidences of blood-borne viruses at work can be found at the HSE Website.

With thanks to The British Safety Council

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Why are we afraid to get tested for HIV?

testing

For some people the idea of being tested for HIV is as simple as making a note in a calendar, an entry which sits comfortably beneath a dentist appointment and above a mother’s birthday. For others, the idea of making that appointment, or taking that long walk to the clinic, is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences they can imagine. However, in an age where the numbers of people diagnosed with HIV are increasing, has our natural fear of the unknown become a luxury we simply can’t afford?

Many years ago it was a scary disease. We called it AIDS and it became a name associated with sin and death. The massive number of infections, particularly in the gay community, were staggering, and as the death toll slowly crept up, nations across the world panicked. It’s impossible for any society to come through such a dark time and emerge unscathed, and so the fear of a silent killer left a scar on our cultural memory which has never really healed, and the mere mention of HIV and AIDS still has a way of stopping conversations.

Thankfully, things have changed since then and treatment for HIV and AIDS is better now than it has ever been. People who have the condition are now finding that their lives have not changed completely, and they are still able to live as long and do all the same things they could before. It’s true that they now have a few additional concerns to think about but with the help of medication, HIV is now manageable. However, it seems that attitudes have not moved on as much as the treatment, with people still finding themselves afraid, ashamed and worried that their lives will never be the same again.

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To try and get a better understanding of the feelings and attitudes behind the diagnosis, I spoke with Sona Barbossa, a counselling team leader with the GMI Partnership. Over the course of our conversation, Sona revealed that the anxiety surrounding being tested and anxiety about the results is something which does prevent people from being tested regularly. ‘I don’t think it’s so much a fear about the test itself, but more fear of what the results might be and having to deal with that. There is still a stigma around it and I see many guys who have not been tested for years because they’re afraid of finding out the results and having to make decisions upon learning their results. Also, there’s still a lot of thinking around where people believe that it won’t happen to them, so they don’t see the point in being tested.’ When I asked Sona if she thought attitudes have changed much since HIV first came to public attention, she told us she didn’t think so. ‘People still connect HIV with promiscuity, the gay scene and with drugs. There’s also still a lot of shame and guilt that surrounds the condition, which I think plays a large role in whether people want to be tested or not and can prevent people from making those all important first steps to be tested.’

The fear of the condition is more than understandable. Even with new treatments being developed every day, HIV is still a lifelong condition which also has lifelong consequences. There’s also a very real stigma still attached, which has always been associated with homosexuality, promiscuity and intravenous drug use. This forces a lot of people who have HIV into a double life to keep it a secret from their friends and family. Sona herself pointed out during our conversation that a lot of people still feel like they will be shunned by their loved ones. ‘The fear of being judged and being looked at differently does form a large part of why people may keep this condition from their loved ones. They think that people may change towards them, and worry that their friends won’t accept them any more, and obviously the worry that their families won’t accept them any more. With this kind of attitude pervading society, it’s little wonder that people would be put off from learning their status, as it forces people to think about a lot of things before they even go to have the test done.’

According to statistics gathered by the gay men’s health charity GMFA, 59,000 gay men were tested for HIV last year. While this seems like a large figure, I was later informed by Carl Burnell, the CEO of GMFA, that this figure may only make up 15-25% of the estimated gay population. This becomes all the more worrying when GMFA’s recent statistics uncovered that 82% of new HIV infections are actually passed on from people who have not been checked themselves. The organisation has consistently fought to encourage people to learn their status and  to be checked at least once a year, however in the course of their work, they find that anxiety about HIV is having a definitive effect on preventing people from being checked. When they examined the reasons for not going to be tested, they found that 30% of those asked noted that nerves about their results were a factor, with a further 10% going on to say this was the main thing stopping them from taking the test. Burnell also noted that though people are still keen to avoid becoming HIV positive, their awareness that the condition is all around them is decreasing, and this can potentially lead people to take risks with their sexual health. He also commented that there is still a popular misconception among young gay men that HIV is not something they need to worry about, as it’s still considered by some to be a disease that only harms older people.

However, it isn’t just methods of treatment which have moved on, but also methods of detection. Time was, that if you wanted to have an HIV test you would have to go to your GP and ask for the test specifically and then be referred to have your blood taken and examined. The process would take anywhere between 3 days and 2 weeks depending on the area, and the very idea of waiting for the results could be described as hell-on-earth for people who were brave enough to be tested in the first place. Now people are able to walk in and be tested within half an hour and have their results the same day, sometimes within minutes. Similarly, thanks to the work of organisations like the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), people are now able to order and administer the test in the privacy of their own home, send off a small vial of blood and have their results sent to them via email or even text. The sad fact is that even with all these different ways to be diagnosed, not enough people are going out and being regularly checked.

HIV TESTINGHere at So So Gay we like to practice what we preach, so when it came to writing a feature that dealt with being fearless and going to get tested, I decided to go out and take the test myself. Having been in a long-term relationship and suddenly single again, it seemed like the right time to know my status, since I was back on the dating scene. I picked the 56 Dean Street clinic in London for its walk-in service and quick results. The staff were amazing and they made me feel reassured every step of the way. They made me feel like, even though I may have been nervous to be there, I was doing the right thing by being tested. I must admit I was scared – after all the idea of drawing blood at the best of times is scary, especially for a needle-phobe like me –  but I felt that whatever the result, it would all be OK. It’s impossible to be in that situation and not wonder about what happens if you get a bad result and I was no different as I sat in the waiting room. However, I was seen by the nurse extremely quickly and within a few minutes of me sitting down in the private room, we were ready to draw blood. The nurse was a saint and kept me calm, and reminded me that even if I was HIV+, then I would still be the same person I was when I walked in, and that there are services out there to help me every step of the way. When my result came back, I was thankfully HIV-. Although I was relieved, I also knew that being tested was only half the battle, so I went and made an appointment to come back in 6 months to be checked again. I felt like it was a responsible thing to do, not just for my own health, but also for the benefit of anyone I might come to know in the future.

The truth is that it’s very easy to get ‘caught short’ in life and sometimes that leads us to take risks when we know we shouldn’t. The true test is when we make these mistakes, we have to make sure that we take the time to know our own status, since it doesn’t just affect us, but also the people we care about. HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be and people are able to live normal, healthy and happy lives like they did before. However, this is thanks to the amazing progress we have made in treating the condition and we can only begin to do that when we make the decision to get tested and keep on top of our health. It’s a scary prospect to some and no one takes that for granted, but by taking the chance to be tested, you could be buying yourself years of life. Speaking to Carl at GMFA, he even proclaimed that we could well see the cure to HIV in our lifetimes, so let’s all make sure we are all there to see it.

Some key facts to remember:

  1. HIV is a disease which is transmitted by the sharing of bodily fluids, i.e. blood and semen. It does not discriminate against people who are older, more sexually active or people who use drugs.
  2. There is currently no cure for HIV, so people with the condition have it for the rest of their lives.
  3. With an early diagnosis people are able to live long lives. If it is left untreated, then it becomes harder to fight.
  4. People who have HIV are still the same people they have always been, and it is wrong to judge people or treat them differently because of their status.
  5. Condoms are not 100% effective. There is still a chance you can get HIV if you are safe, so you need to get tested at least once a year to know if you have the condition or not. The only ‘safe’ sex, is no sex.

Above all, remember that we have a responsibility to care for each other as well as for ourselves because, regardless of positive or negative, we are still united as a community. Be brave, go out and get tested so you know your status. There is an old saying which says ‘knowledge is power’, but in this instance it would be more accurate to say ‘knowledge is life’, whatever your status may be.

Via So So gay

HAVE YOU EVER HAD A HIV TEST?

If you’re interested in having a HIV test, we offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test. We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies. We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995

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Record numbers of UK gay men test positive for HIV

 

  • Almost half of new cases are gay or bisexual males
  • Up to 10,000 unaware of their infection, says study

The number of gay men being diagnosed with HIV has reached a record high in the UK, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

One in 20 gay men and men who occasionally have sex with men are HIV positive in the UK – and in London, the ratio is as high as one in 12. Part of the reason for the observed rise is increased testing, but, says the HPA, it is also clear that too many men are unaware that they have HIV and are unknowingly infecting others.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 gay men are HIV positive and unaware of their status,” said Dr Valerie Delpech, the HPA’s head of HIV surveillance.

According to the HPA’s annual report, released on Thursday in advance of World Aids Day on Saturday, 3,010 men who have sex with men were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011 – 47.9% of all new diagnoses in the UK. The numbers have remained high since 2007.

Men who have tested positive and been put on drug treatment, which can keep them healthy and give them a normal lifespan, are unlikely to be infectious. Trials have shown that treatment has a role to play in preventing the spread of the epidemic – the drugs reduce the levels of virus in somebody with HIV to such a low level that they are unlikely to transmit the infection to a sexual partner.

The HPA and organisations for those diagnosed with HIV are all advocating regular testing for anybody at risk. Gay men and other men who have sex with men should take an annual test, they say – and if they have new or casual partners, they should be tested every three months.

Living a long and healthy life with HIV depends on starting treatment early. “People are still starting late: they are infected for three to five years before they are diagnosed,” said Delpech. People who are diagnosed as HIV positive late are at 10 times the risk of dying within a year of discovering they have the infection. They are also more likely to infect people while they remain unaware of their status.

The black African community in Britain also faces a higher risk than average, with 37 out of every 1,000 living with HIV last year. Far more men and women in the black African community are diagnosed late than gay men – 68% and 61% respectively, compared with 35%.

The HPA is recommending safe-sex programmes promoting condom use and annual HIV testing as a priority for this community as well as for men who have sex with men. They want NHS clinicians to take every opportunity to offer testing to those at higher risk.

The total number of people in the UK living with HIV climbs steadily every year because treatment is keeping more people alive. Including both diagnosed and undiagnosed cases, it has now reached 96,000, with a total of 6,280 new diagnoses in 2011.

Nearly half of all new diagnoses were acquired heterosexually. More than half of all new UK infections were acquired while the subject was in Britain, compared with 27% in 2002: the small drop in new infections last year, from 6,400 in 2010 to 6,280 last year, was because of the drop in the number of people who had been infected abroad.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said: “What is striking about the HPA’s data is how it really shows both our successes and our shortcomings in tackling HIV in the UK. On the one hand, we can hail treatment as a real success story. Treatment is effective, people diagnosed with HIV can access it easily and it is working in keeping the virus under control.

“However, when it comes to increasing the uptake of testing – the gateway to treatment – our services are patchy, inconsistent and ultimately we are still failing to make any significant headway in tackling the high rates of undiagnosed HIV.

“A quarter of people living with HIV are unaware they have the virus. As long as this figure remains high, new infections will continue to occur. We must increase our efforts in encouraging people to test and making sure that the health service is taking advantage of every single avenue in offering an opportunity to test – something that isn’t happening at the moment.”

Sir Nick Partridge, the chief executive of the HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, spoke up for safe sex and said that testing could add 40 years to a person’s life. “HIV is an entirely preventable condition, yet each year we see thousands more people across the UK receive this life-changing diagnosis,” he said. “While there is still no cure and no vaccine, that doesn’t mean we need to accept its continuing march.”

Original Story via Sarah Boseley, health editor at The Guardian

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Condoms: Why are we still embarrassed about using them?

A new restaurant promoting safe sex and condom use has opened in the UK, but many people are still too embarrassed to even buy them – why?

As sex education goes, it’s pretty unconventional. Cabbages and Condoms is a Thai restaurant chain that serves food along with contraception. The name says it all.

Condoms are handed out to customers instead of after-dinner mints and each restaurant is covered in them – literally. Lights and walls are adorned with condoms, artworks are even made out of them.

All profits go into sex education and Aids prevention programmes in Thailand. Now it has opened its first branch outside Thailand, in the Oxfordshire town of Bicester.   Of all the towns in all the world, it’s not an obvious choice but in the UK many people are still too embarrassed to buy condoms in public and can’t even talk about sex “in a normal way”, say sex education charities.

So why are so many of us still so uncomfortable when it comes to condoms?

This awkwardness is enshrined in British popular culture. Songs like House of Fun by Madness sum up the awkwardness many feel when trying to buy condoms, with such lines as: “A toothbrush and hairspray, plastic grin. Mrs Clay on the corner has just walked in.”

Britain is a sexualised society where adult shops like Ann Summers can be found on many High Streets and condoms and lubricants of any number of flavours, textures and smells can be bought at your local chemist.

A survey by Fusion Condoms found 56% of people surveyed, were embarrassed to buy them. When it came to men, 54% got red faced while 57% of woman did.

Sexual health charities agree embarrassment is still a big issue for many people.

“We’re still so British about sex and condoms, many people find it easier to have sex rather than to talk about it,” says Genevieve Edwards, executive director of health improvement at the Terrence Higgins Trust.

“It’s a population-wide issue, something that doesn’t really change whatever sex or age. Buying condoms is a public declaration that you want sex and many people still aren’t comfortable with that.”

James, 48, from Surrey, is a successful businessman but still feels very awkward when buying condoms.

Figures at Cabbages and Condoms are covered with condoms. Image credit: Getty Images

“Let’s just say self-service tills have made life a lot less stressful,” he says.

“I will always use them rather than dealing with a person. I think my unease is something that lingers from my youth. Back then condoms and talking about sex were not done.”

The embarrassment factor has helped online retailers. The sellers range from commercial operations like Johnnys in a Jiffy to the NHS retailer Freedoms Shop.

In the four years since it was set up, myCondom.co.uk has seen sales increase month-on-month.

But customers still demand discretion. This can be for several reasons and embarrassment is one of them, says managing director Alex Green.

“A large part of the business is niche condoms,” he says. “We sell a lot of small-sized condoms and it’s obvious why someone might not want to buy them in a shop.

“Even online, people are still very concerned about avoiding embarrassment. We get a lot of enquiries about our packaging, some customers even ask for photos of what their order will be sent in.

“We use plain packaging because people make it very clear they don’t want something advertising what’s inside.

“We also get queries about what company name will appear on bank and credit card bills.

The British have a “strange range” of attitudes when it comes to condoms. It ranges from the absolute brazen to the acutely embarrassed and a lot more in between, says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“Buying condoms means you are having to be absolutely explicit about something many people want to be implicit about. You are having to admit you are planning to have sex or want to have it.”

Talking about using condoms is also something people struggle with, again regardless of age, according to the FPA (Family Planning Association).

It’s figures shows 61% of people find talking about condoms with a new sexual partner a difficult conversation to have. Of those, 70% find it embarrassing and 36% say it makes them less likely to use a condom.

Health professions say the obvious way to overcome this is better sex education in schools.

While some schools are doing a good job, others aren’t, and this means young people are often getting their information in the playground or on the internet.

“We all know the quality of that information,” says Edwards.

Hodson says condoms are just part of what young people need to be taught.

This condom, dating from the early 19th Century, is made of animal gut and is seen here with waxed paper envelope packaging

Even after the introduction of rubber condoms, some – like this late 19th century example – were still being manufactured from caecal membrane and silk

This rubber sheath, still in its original 1940s packaging, is made of “one piece of soft pliable rubber” and is designed to be reusable

This packet of one latex condom was issued to British troops on active service during WWII, and “withstands all climates”

“They need to be at ease dealing with them, but with that they also need to be taught that sex is powerful and can be an overwhelming thing and they need to think about what they are doing. All of that needs to be taken into account.

“We also need to get to parents and teach them how to talk to their children about sex.

“We need to get across that just because their children are educated about it and how to use a condom it doesn’t mean they are going to go out and have loads of sex.”

He says other countries, like Holland, are able to talk to young people about sex in a natural way, “without sniggering like the British often do”.

Katherine, 17, from Essex, says teenagers do talk about condoms, but nearly always in a joking way.  “I’m more likely to be hit in the head with a condom filled with water or get one taped to a birthday card than have a serious conversation about them,” she says.

“Young people tend to hide behind humour and make things funny so they’re not embarrassed.

“If you do need one you ask a close friend, you don’t often buy them. We’re given a lot of free condoms at safe sex talks. It saves embarrassment and money.”

In the Fusion survey it was 16 to 19 years olds who found buying condoms the most embarrassing – 65% of those asked said they found it difficult. But so did 57% of people between the ages of 20 and 30, and 50% of those aged over 31.

It shows people of all ages need just as much support as teenagers when it comes to sexual health, says Dr Audrey Simpson of the FPA.

“The problem is that we are preoccupied with the sexual behaviour of the young and consequently thirtysomethings are a forgotten generation in sexual health,” she says.

“They received little sex and relationships education at school but grew up in an increasingly sexualised society. They’ve had to find the confidence themselves to talk about condoms and learn the hard way.

“It’s not surprising that people can feel it’s easier not to use a condom than put themselves through the torture of talking about a subject they feel deeply uncomfortable about.”

At least in Bicester, embarrassment apparently hasn’t stopped people eating at the town’s new condom-themed restaurant.

Original Article via BBC Magazine

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