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.
On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.
Just a quick note to let you know that the March 2013 issue of ATTITUDE Magazine is out now, and wow is it a tasty one! This month is is ATTITUDE’s famed ‘Naked Issue’ – featuring toned torsos and buttocks from the likes of Shayne Ward and Colin Gentry.
But fear not dear reader it’s not all style and no substance, this Naked Issue ATTITUDE have teamed up with NAT (National AIDS Trust) to talk about safer sex, condom use, HIV and the importance of getting tested – a must read.
Oh, and don’t forget my column – this month I talk about how I’m having ups and downs with my medication but how I remain thankful that it’s now, and not 30 years ago. Find out why…
Lots of love,
Happy Friday to you lovely people,
Today, Friday 23rd November 2012 marks the start of National HIV Testing Week here in England. This is the first time such a large initiative has been run to encourage the people of England to go out and get tested.
National HIV Testing Week runs from Friday 23rd November to Friday 30th November, finishing just before World AIDS Day on Saturday 1st December.
The initiative is being run by the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV charity (who are celebrating their 30th birthday this year) and supported by a whole host of other organisations such as BASHH, BHIVA and the HPA.
Many people are put off going for HIV test by a fear of needles or having blood taken, but the fact is most clinics these days use rapid testing known as FastTest which involves a simple prick on your finger and you’ll get the results within minutes.
Annie Lennox was interviewed this week for ITV News about her views on HIV and testing in the UK, she said:
“We’re still struggling with the issue of stigma, fear and ignorance, There are many people that now, actually need to get tested. Friday 23rd at the end of the is the begining of National Testing week here in the country and we’ll be encouraging people to go get tested and find out their status… Go and get tested, find out your status, then you can know what you’re dealing with.” You can watch the full interview here: http://vimeo.com/53871991
Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London said:
“London is home to almost half of all people living with HIV in the UK, but a quarter of them are unaware that they carry the virus. It is vital that people who might be at risk get tested, not only to reduce the risk of transmission to others, but to ensure that they get the life-saving treatments that are available”
Even if you’ve been tested recently, or are HIV+ why not help promote National HIV Testing week via your facebook or Twitter using #HIVTestingWeek and encourage your friends to go and get tested. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take control of your health and protect those around you.
Enjoy your Friday and weekend!
Lots of Love,
Today, September 10th 2012, is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Suicide is not something people find easy to discuss, this isn’t helped that by the fact that it is still considered a criminal act in many countries (but not the UK since 1961), or that many religions consider it a “sin” – all of this keeps suicide a taboo subject, one that people tend to shy away from given the chance.
But talking is what we need to do. In 2010 in the UK 5,608 people committed suicide (4,321 men & 1,377 women). A recent study by the University of Manchester showed that only 27% of people who committed suicide in the UK between 2000 and 2010 had spoken to a mental health professional. That means 73% (4093 people) didn’t feel they could seek professional assistance with how they were feeling.
There’s a tendency these days to shrug off suicide, and even term it a selfish act, and on the face of things I can see how people reach that conclusion, but you need to step into the shoes of the person in question. How bad had things got in their life that they felt that their only remaining course of action was to take their own lives? That they had no-one to talk to? No other form of resolution?
A few months ago I wrote a blog post, ‘The Night I Almost Died’, about how the selfish and callous actions of someone I had trusted left me feeling that there was no way out but to go out on a cold night and jump off a bridge. My reputation, my life, my self worth and confidence were all in tatters due to one vile and baseless rumour, something I thought I’d never live down. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my friend Ben, who spoke to me in the middle of the night, who calmed me down when I was shaking and in tears, or without the help of the counsellors at MyHIV.org.uk who helped me rebuild my confidence.
So today on Suicide Awareness Day take a moment to think of your friends, your colleagues, your family – is there anyone who’s feeling down? Someone who’s more anxious or withdrawn than normal? Why not give them a call, or arrange a coffee and ask how they’re doing. From personal experience I can tell you that there’s nothing more reassuring than hearing a friendly voice and seeing a familiar face when you’re at your lowest.
If you’re the one feeling low, why not take the initiative and call a friend up yourself, and if you really feel you can’t talk to your friends about what’s going on there are organisations out there that can help you. If it’s HIV related try the THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221, or if it’s more general the lovely people at Samaritans will always be there to listen on: 08457 90 90 90.
Make time for those around you this World Suicide Prevention Day.
Massive cuddles all round,
If you cast your minds back two months you’ll remember I was busy pleading, begging, nagging and dancing for you guys to sponsor me on the Terrence Higgins Trust Walk For Life.
I had such a fun day, meeting lots of lovely new people, taking a tour of London on foot and getting some (probably much needed) exercise. Thanks to you guys we raised an AMAZING £2,237 for the Terrence Higgins Trust Hardship Fund.
The total for the day, from everyone who took part and donated comes to an ASTONISHING £85,875.
The Terrence Higgins Trust Hardship fund provides much needed emergency grants to people living with HIV in crisis. The grants enable them to buy essential items “such as food, clothing, urgent utilities (e.g. gas card, electric card, telephone card or water card), bedding, towels and travel to either welfare or clinical appointments.” (quote from THT website).
It’s difficult enough coping with HIV sometimes, let alone trying to cope with it when you realise you can’t pay for your electricity or for anything to eat. It’s those sorts of times we’re lucky to have charities like the THT to step in.
If you didn’t get a chance to sponsor me on the Walk For Life, but you’d still like to donate to the THT please do using this link: http://www.tht.org.uk/our-charity/Donate
Many many thanks,
Thirty years ago today, on the 4th July 1982, a man called Terry Higgins became one of the first people to die of AIDS at a time when almost nothing was known about HIV/AIDS.
Upset and angered by the way Terry and his partner Rupert were treated his friends set up the Terry Higgins Trust, later to be renamed the Terrence Higgins Trust (or THT for short), with the purpose of raising awareness and preventing the spread of HIV.
Today, thirty years later, the THT has grown dramatically from that small group of friends in an East London flat to the UK’s biggest HIV charity but they still have the same core mission – to raise awareness of and prevent the spread of HIV.
On a personal note I’d like to thank Terry, Rupert and everyone who works and volunteers for the Terrence Higgins Trust. You’ve helped me so much in the last year, from providing information about HIV and my treatment, to giving me counselling free of charge and helping me meet other HIV positive people through your MyHIV.org.uk website. You’ve been there for me in some of my darkest hours, and I don’t know where I’d be without you. I think Terry would be very proud of you all.
Please all help me wish the Terrence Higgins Trust a happy 30th birthday, and if you can show your support by making a donation to this very worthy cause: http://www.tht.org.uk/howyoucanhelpus/donations/ourappeals/
Good afternoon boys and girls,
In 31 days time I’ll be taking on the THT Walk for Life 2012. A 10km trek around London to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is an amazing charity that provides support and information to those living with HIV in the UK, as well as their prevention and awareness work. They’ve helped me out in some of my darkest hours with their online and telephone counselling – I really don’t know where I’d be today without them.
They also run the ground-breaking site MyHIV.org.uk which provides both advice and a meeting place for those living with HIV in the UK. Already there are over a thousand people on the forums, and regular coffee afternoons spawning all over the country. It’s almost impossible to write down everything they do here, but needless to say they do a lot – and THEY NEED YOUR SUPPORT.
Please sponsor me for the THT 10k Walk for Life, every pound will help someone in some way. Be it their hardship fund providing assistance to those living in poverty with HIV or hiring more counsellors to talk to those desperately in need.
You can find my sponsorship page here: http://fundraising.tht.org.uk/UKPositiveLad
Please give generously, please give what you can.
All my love and gratitude,
Launched a year ago MyHIV.org.uk (run by THT and funded by EJAF) has developed into an amazing online resource for people living with HIV in the UK, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The site boasts a myriad of tools to help you manage your HIV and to make new friends, these include:
- The Forums. Now with over a thousand members the forums are a busy and lively place to make new friends, find peer support, ask questions, arrange social events and find out HIV related news – and coming soon a ‘Looking to meet’ HIV dating section.
- One to one online counselling, advice and health training. Speak directly, one on one in a private chat room with a qualified counsellor or HIV professional. Get honest, friendly and useful advice on relationships, benefits, housing, health and more.
- Text and email alerts. Get personalised medication alerts direct to your mobile phone or email account. We all lead busy lives and it can be very easy to let medication slip, so keep on top of it with text/email alerts.
- CD4 and Viral Load tracking. Input your latest clinic results directly into the MyHIV website to create a real time graph of your progress through treatment. This will help you see how your treatment is working over the long term, something that can be harder to appreciate with just numbers.
- My Life check. A set of four mini quizes that you complete every six months or so, that help flag up any gaps in your understanding or potential issues that you may not have noticed yourself.
- Your Stories. A section dedicated to video and written experiences from real people with HIV in and around the UK.
In the coming months MyHIV will also be launching its very own iPhone application, allowing you to access the online resources of MyHIV, as well as the forums, on the move wherever you happen to be.
Over 2,700 people have registered with MyHIV.org.uk since its launch. I’m proud to be one of those people, the forums enabled me to make contact with other HIV positive people for the first time, and the online counselling has helped me out of some very dark times. It’s free to join, so what’ve you got to lose. Sign up and meet some truly amazing people.
So please, join me in congratulating MyHIV.org.uk and the wonderful team behind it on this great success. Here’s to many more years to come.