You may remember a week or so back I posted about a new HIV awareness campaign in England called ‘It Starts With Me’ – designed to educate people about HIV, how it’s spread, how it’s prevented and what they can do to fight HIV.
Well the campaign is really in full swing now, with events and awareness materials rolling out across England.
Yesterday I returned from a trip to Berlin with my friend Anthony to find a ‘It Starts With Me’ t-shirt waiting on my door step. So I popped it on and took a few snaps, you’ll probably see me at a few events up and down the country – including pride events wearing it, talking to people about their attitudes towards sexual health, testing and HIV.
Some quick HIV related facts from the It Starts With Me website:
- 1 in 4: The number of people with HIV in the UK aren’t aware that they have it
- 10 years: how much shorter your life could be if you delay testing
- 8 in 10: gay men get HIV from someone who doesn’t know they have it
- 25-29: the age group in which the most gay men test HIV positive
- 96%: Treatment for HIV can make you upto 96% less infectious to others
Please make sure to head over to the It Starts With Me website to find out more about HIV, and how YOU can stop it in its tracks.
As many of you who have been following my writings for some time now will know, I have frequently lambasted the UK Government, Department of Health and Health Protection Agency for failing to take any decisive action to curb the rising rate of HIV infections in the UK.
In recent years there’ve been numerous repetitive campaigns about cancer, stroke, mental health, alcohol, drugs, fruit & veg, exercise – even barbequed food, but nothing about HIV since the late 1980s. Well that changes this month.
24th April 2013 marks the launch of ‘It Starts With Me‘, a campaign created by The Terrence Higgins Trust and funded by HIV Prevention England (HPE), via the Department of Health, a campaign that will run (at least initially) for two years – until April 2015.
‘It Starts With Me’ is a campaign that will be delivered online, via the press, via posters/condom packs in venues and via local outreach teams. HPE will funding national and regional organisations to promote the campaign up and down England.
The campaign focuses on:
- Testing for HIV at least once every twelve months, and more frequently if they have taken a risk, or show symptoms of seroconversion illness.
- Taking the medication they need to stay fit and well, if they have been diagnosed with HIV.
- Protecting themselves during sex by using condoms and finding other ways to avoid risk.
- Participating in community action by finding a way to support the campaign and spread the word to their friends and contacts.
Make sure to check out www.startswithme.org.uk, the website for the campaign, and watch the short introductory video, which includes many interesting facts like 1 in 4 people in the UK with HIV don’t know that they have the virus, and that treatment is easier than ever and dramatically reduces the risk of you passing the virus onto anyone else.
It Starts With Me.
I don’t know how many of you have read the HPA (Health Protection Agency) 2011 report regarding HIV in the UK (link), I have – and it makes shocking reading.
In 2010 over 6,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK – 3,640 of them via sexual transmission. This is double the figure for 2001 which was 1,950. By the end of 2010 there were 91,500 people (estimated) living with HIV in the UK – a shocking 22,500 of these didn’t even know they were HIV positive. The total figure for people living with HIV in the UK is expected to pass 100,000 by the end of 2012.
Enough talking, it’s time for action. The NHS and various UK government departments (Department of Health & The Health Protection Agency) have been grossly negligent in their duty to keep the UK public informed and aware of HIV. Every day our screens are bombarded with campaigns for Cancer, Heart disease, Stroke, Lung disease, Smoking, Five-a-day, Exercise, Dementia, Mental Health – but when was the last time you saw a HIV advert? Not since the late 80s – that’s if you were even born then.
I’m calling on everyone to sign my Change.org petition http://is.gd/55w4A8 - demanding that the NHS and the Government run a HIV awareness campaign across the various medias (TV, Radio, Print, Web). We must must must stop the HIV infection rate rising - and only through education and a well thought out highly visible campaign can we do that.
PLEASE check out the petition page for more information, PLEASE sign it, and PLEASE share it with your friends, family and social networks.
I get dozens of emails each day from people who read my blog, follow me on twitter or have stumbled across me on Google. Some of these are thank you letters, some of these are abuse and some of these are questions. The two most common questions I get asked are “What is HIV?” and “How do I know if I have HIV?”.
If you’re gay there’s a good chance you know something about HIV, it’s in the gay press quite frequently, you and your friends likely go and get tested, you might even know someone who is HIV+. In straight world it’s a somewhat different affair though, it’s not mentioned. Many straight people don’t go for STI screenings, or know anyone who is HIV+. Then we wonder why the rate of infection amongst straight people is sky rocketing.
The problem lies squarely with the lack of awareness campaigns in the mainstream media. We’re bombarded daily with information and charity appeals for cancer, stroke, mental illness, heart disease, 5-a-day fruit and veg, smoking, alcohol etc, but when was the last time you saw a TV advert, a center-spread in a newspaper or a billboard about HIV?
As I see it, the only way to cut infection rates is to raise awareness of the virus, the way it’s transmitted, the effects, and how it can be prevented. But we have to be careful to not tread the same path as the 1980s campaign that used death, tombstones and fear as it’s central message. Scaring people doesn’t help, in fact quite the opposite, fear creates stigma which in turn widens the social divide.
The work of the gay press in promoting HIV campaigns and providing information is noble and should be applauded. But that message only reaches so far. With an estimated 20,000 plus people unknowingly living with HIV in the UK it’s time that the government picked up the torch and build a wide reaching, well thought out HIV awareness campaign – based on facts, understanding and compassion, and to bring that campaign into people’s lives through print, TV and the web.
So Department of Health, The NHS and Number 10 – it’s over to you. I’ll be waiting.
When it comes to HIV there are a lot of medical terms bandied about, things like viral load, CD4, HART, ARV, advanced infection and resistance to name just a few, and if you (like me), are not a doctor these can initially be somewhat confusing. What I’m talking about today however is ‘Early Diagnosis’.
Early Diagnosis is just that, making a diagnosis of HIV in the early stages of the disease. Whilst there is no defined time scale for Early Diagnosis it’s widely taken to mean within a year of the initial infection.
What are the benefits to Early Detection?
- You can start receiving specialist care. Some people may not need treatment for years, others like myself, might start in a matter of months. But once you’re under the care of a HIV clinic their regular monitoring will make sure you stay in tip top condition and recommend treatment to you - when it’s appropriate.
- You’ll live longer. Studies have shown that the earlier you’re diagnosed the longer you’ll live. Things have come on in leaps and bounds in the last 30 years and someone diagnosed in their twenties will now live until their mid-seventies, and that’s without any advances in care that happen in the meantime.
- You can protect others. Knowledge is power. By knowing that you’re HIV+ you can inform past sexual partners that may have been at risk, and make more informed and responsible decisions with any future partners. Modern treatment can also reduce the risk of passing on the infection by upto 96%.
What are the challenges to Early Detection initiatives?
- Ignorance. Many people believe that they’ll know if/when they have HIV through symptoms such as a flu, or a rash. However, many people who contract HIV, myself included, show no symptoms at all, and even if they do experience flu like symptoms they may think it’s just the flu and nothing more serious.
- Fear. The idea that you may have HIV isn’t a nice one, in fact for most people it’s down right terrifying. This leads to people burying their heads in the sand and putting off testing. Other people are put off because they’re afraid of the tests themselves, when in fact most HIV testing is done in minutes with a simple prick test.
- Denial. I didn’t think I’d ever get HIV. I’m in my twenties, I was look after myself, HIV doesn’t happen to people like me does it? Wrong. HIV can happen to anyone, and at any time.
So, what next?
- Inform the masses. HIV awareness campaigns tend to be limited to niche publications, such as the gay press. I think there’s a pressing need for a national campaign, both in print and on TV, but unlike the adverts of the 80′s we need to inform, teach and encourage to test rather than shock and scare.
- Fight the stigma. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding people living with HIV, again this is firmly rooted in the 80′s where HIV and AIDS was portrayed as a dirty disease that affected dirty deviant people. We need to show that HIV affects people from all walks of life, and can be contracted in any manner of ways.
- Encourage testing. Through these new campagins, both nationally and targetted at specific communities, we need to encourage regular testing. Let people know that it takes only a few minutes, doesn’t involve needles and is free of charge.
Please, if you can, donate to one of the HIV charities and help them raise awareness and provide services. Consider reblogging/retweeting/facebooking/sharing this blog post to your followers and friends to do your part to raise awareness about the benefits of Early Detection. It only takes one click and could positively impact on any number of lives.
Love and respect,