Paul Steinberg, Lead Commissioner of the London HIV Prevention Programme, on DO IT London explains why HIV testing rates among Black Africans are low.
The campaign appears to target Londoners as a whole, rather than focussing on sexual orientation or racial identity, why is that?
The campaign is very strongly targeted at African communities and men who have sex with men (MSM), as we know these are the two groups most affected by HIV in London. But you’ll see that the branding we’ve adopted makes sense for all Londoners – because HIV is an issue for London, and many people do not solely consider themselves in terms of racial or sexual identities. They are people who live in London, people who go to work, go out, socialise, live their lives and come into contact with advertising and media just like everyone else.
For the last few years, new diagnoses of HIV have steadily increased but testing rates among Black African people are still too low. Why are some people still not getting tested?
There are a number of reasons why some people still aren’t getting tested. It could be fear of the result – because they don’t know about the huge advances in treating HIV effectively. It might also be because they fear the stigma associated with HIV – which is why our campaign makes it very clear that HIV testing is something that over half a million people do every year, and that number is growing.
Then it might be that they are confused or unsure about where to test, or opening hours for places that offer free testing - which is why our website has an easy postcode search facility to find your nearest testing centre.
Do It London HIV testing
Or it could be a sense that they assume it will take many hours out of their busy day, when in reality testing can be done very quickly and easily, including now in the comfort of your own home via a free home sampling kit (which uses either a finger prick of blood, or the saliva from your mouth). Plus, since April, it’s now possible to purchase a self-testing kit that is delivered to your home for £30 – which allows you to get the result by testing yourself there and then. The good news is that more people are gradually getting tested; but it’s not enough. It’s estimated that, to find 1 HIV positive person who is currently undiagnosed, we need to test 10,000 people. That’s a huge statistic – and why testing more frequently by those considered “at risk” is so vital.
People infected with HIV who haven’t tested are living with the infection and not getting the essential NHS treatment and care that is so vital to their health and to that of the wider community. So we absolutely need more men to test and more frequently. That way, we can ensure they get the care and medication they need.
Once someone is diagnosed with HIV and on medication, their prognosis is generally excellent, and the vast majority of people become “undetectable”, which has a powerful knock-on effect for preventing transmission to their partners.