National HIV testing week ran from November 21, right through until World AIDS day on December 1 2015 (we know, that’s longer than a week, but you get the general idea). One of my colleagues took this opportunity to get tested at her local doctors and agreed to share the details of her experience with us.
Over the course of the last week, health campaigners, GP practices and members of staff at city councils have been encouraging the people of Great Britain to get tested. Specifically, to get a blood test for HIV. The topic of HIV and AIDS is one of no small controversy: most of us are uncomfortable to talk about it, or when we do, it is with a hurried explanation that it is something that happens to other people, and that is of course, incredibly tragic when it does. While it is true that there are certain groups, such as gay and bisexual cis-gender men, that are more affected by HIV as a demographic, HIV affects over 100,000 people living in the UK, and especially here in Leeds.
As I sit down in a plastic chair for my HIV blood test, my phlebotomist, Gemma, tells me that Leeds has the highest number of people living with HIV in the country. This number could be even higher, given that the World Health Organisation estimates that only 53% of people who are HIV positive actually know their status. This is why my GP practice, the Meanwood Health Centre, is offering free HIV and other blood-borne disease testing for every new patient that registers.
I don’t belong to either of the two groups that the National HIV Testing Week identifies as most vulnerable (men who sleep with men, and black African heterosexual men and women), but I’ve had a diversity of partners that means I could have been exposed, and it’s therefore good to check; just in case. More important than my own blood test though, is raising awareness for people who are in those vulnerable groups.
“If people would just look it up, they would realise that it’s no problem at all to have HIV”, Gemma says as she prods at the inside of my elbow, “You can live a long and healthy life. The problem comes when people don’t get checked, don’t know, and HIV develops into AIDS in your 40s or 50s.”
Gemma is entirely right: there shouldn’t be the kind of stigma that still lingers around the topic of HIV. It is exactly that stigma that is preventing people from getting tested and keeping themselves safe from the real threat of AIDS. If you’re not comfortable going into a doctor’s practice and signing up for a test, you can order a home sampling kit on-line. Though if you’re a resident of the Leeds Meanwood area, Gemma the phlebotomist is really nice.