National HIV Testing Week 2017 launched with much excitement and many activities happening around the country.
On Wednesday 15 November, Prince Harry attended the opening of Terrence Higgins Trust’s HIV self testing Pop-up Shop in Hackney, London, to launch the national campaign at the highest level.
He met with Andrew Bates, a young man who was diagnosed with HIV in 2015, who shared his story and talked about the importance of testing. Prince Harry also met Yvette Twagiramariya, a reporter and one of the faces of the It Starts With Me campaign, who took a live HIV test to show him how the self testing kits work.
The Prince met and talked with some local Hackney residents, and gave each of them one of the self testing kits to take home.
Government and political activity
On the same day, Public Health England (PHE) released new figures which showed that the drive to increase HIV testing is having an impact, with a 21.8% drop in the number of people who are undiagnosed and do not know that they are living with HIV.
The rate of late diagnosis is also decreasing gradually, although it still remains unacceptably high.
Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV Surveillance at Public Health England (PHE), said: ‘This year, there are three firsts in the 30-year history of the UK HIV epidemic.
‘In London, all the global UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets have been met [;] … HIV transmission among gay and bi men has fallen [;] and the death rate among people with HIV who are diagnosed promptly and on treatment is now comparable to the rest of the population. We celebrate these extraordinary achievements which are the result of a comprehensive response involving many key players and organisations. By continuing to invest in effective preventative measures … the elimination of HIV transmission, AIDS and HIV-related deaths could become a reality in the UK.’
In support of National HIV Testing Week 2017, PHE expanded availability of free HIV postal test kits to all areas of England. The additional tests are available to order until Thursday 4 January 2018. Last year more than 20,000 tests were ordered during a similar period and we anticipate that even more will be distributed this year.
This year we had more MPs than ever test for HIV. We worked in collaboration with Yorkshire MESMAC, The African Institute of Social Development, Staffordshire Buddies, Sunrise Family Support, Trade Sexual Health, LASS, Summit House, The Brigstowe Project and The Brunswick Centre to test 16 MPs all around England.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd took the blood test, as did Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Public Health Minister Steve Brine and Labour’s Liz Kendall to promote National HIV Testing Week.
Ms Rudd and a number of MPs tested in their parliamentary offices, while others attended the Terrence Higgins Trust headquarters in London or visited local services in their constituencies.
Afterwards, the Home Secretary tweeted: ‘Despite the look on my face, the pain wasn’t that bad! Just took an HIV test with Terrence Higgins Trust to raise awareness for HIV Testing Week.’
Other MPs who also took HIV tests include: Labour’s Sarah Champion, Peter Kyle, Lilian Greenwood, Gareth Snell, Ian Austin, Thangham Debbonaire, Tracy Brabin, Thelma Walker and Alex Norris, along with Stephen Hammond, Tom Pursglove and Jon Ashworth from the Conservatives.
Mr Kyle, MP for Hove, told the BBC: ‘HIV is a long-term manageable condition and the earlier the diagnosis, the better it is for the patient, so it’s important to get tested no matter who you are.
‘The fear and stigma surrounding HIV is still a barrier to testing, so I hope I’ve shown today that having a test is fuss-free and easy and that I can help make the stigma and fear around HIV a thing of the past.’
The GMI Partnership, consisting of Positive East, METRO and Spectra, also launched National HIV Testing Week locally by holding a large-scale rapid workplace HIV testing initiative with Tideway. Tideway is a huge construction project, with approximately 1,000 people on site daily.
Newham CCG staff and partners kick-started a new local HIV programme with a workplace testing event on Friday 24 November, demonstrating a commitment to enhanced HIV testing efforts. A total of 28 staff got tested and the event also received coverage in local media.
Barts Health NHS Trust, in partnership with Waltham Forest Council, provided a range of briefing sessions on HIV and hepatitis C as part of National HIV Testing Week. All the sessions were open to anyone working in a healthcare setting and had a good turnout.
Local authorities commissioned extra activities and promotion in their respective areas, including Croydon, Redbridge, Sutton, Kingston, Hertfordshire and Manchester.
Clinics and community organisations prepared more than 300 additional testing events around the country for people to participate in, which were promoted through the It Starts With Me website. These tests and other events such as information stalls occurred in clinics, pharmacies, libraries, colleges, night venues, and mobile testing buses in Birmingham, Kingston, Redbridge, Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Blackpool, Walsall, Lancashire and many other areas.
Organisations including Terrence Higgins Trust and The Brunswick Centre also gave media interviews to raise awareness of HIV testing during the week and to dispel the stigma people affected by HIV face.
Dr Graham Mackenzie, a Consultant in Public Health, kindly mapped out the Twitter impact of the campaign over the course of the event, and has published a blog showing the results. Over a 17 day period, there were 7,113 tweets from 3,138 contributors, an estimated audience of 19.4 million individuals and 47.5 million impressions.
We are still in the process of gathering data to evaluate the overall campaign. Kantar Public is currently conducting an independent evaluation into the overall reach and impact of National HIV Testing Week to target communities. At the same time, we are putting together an in-house evaluation of the other aspects of the campaign including social media activity, resources ordered, tests delivered, and media coverage.
Your feedback is valuable to us. Please complete a brief, five minute survey to tell us about your experience during testing week and how we can improve in the future.
Thank you for all your support, enthusiasm and dedication to stopping HIV in the UK and participating in National HIV Testing Week to help achieve this goal.