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New campaign launches in London to combat rising HIV rates

HIV TESTING: The DO IT LONDON campaign has launched across the capital

A NEW health campaign tackling the rise in HIV rates has launched in London.

The new DO IT LONDON project has launched across the capital to promote free HIV testing and safer sex in a bid to to drive down HIV rates and prevent people being infected with the virus.

The campaign is part of the London HIV Prevention Programme (LHPP) led by Lambeth Council, on behalf of all 33 boroughs which make up Greater London.

Around 110,000 people are now living with HIV in the UK, which is almost double the
figure from ten years ago.

Black African communities are still disproportionately affected by HIV, despite the "excellent and free treatment available on the NHS", according to the campaign.

The campaign also revealed that worryingly, 13,000 black African people in the UK still don’t know they are infected with the virus because they haven’t tested.

One in four people nationally, are unaware of their HIV infection and, when they do test, heterosexual black African people are diagnosed late in 56 per cent of all cases.

Avoiding an HIV test does not make the virus go away; instead it only increases the risk of serious illness and even early death. Yet the benefits of testing are clear: someone diagnosed with HIV in this country can now expect to live a normal, healthy life under the care of the NHS.

Here, The Voice talks to LHPP lead commissioner Paul Steinberg, to find out more about the campaign:

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.

The point is that targeting is about where the adverts appear as much as what or who they portray. So we don’t have black or white faces in the campaign – we have no photos, but instead a fun, modern campaign that tells it as it is. And is quite cheeky in the process!

It’s a delicate balance between creating a tube escalator advert - which you’ll see across the city this summer - and designing advertising for apps, websites and widely-read publications like The Voice. We have a carefully thought out, two-year phased plan to get the balance right.

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.

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.


CAPITAL CAMPAIGN: Londoners are being encouraged to test for HIV, through a series of light-hearted print ads by the London HIV Prevention Programme (LHPP)

The good news is that more people are gradually getting tested; but it’s not enough. It’s estimated that, to find one 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.

The message, it now seems we're seeing everywhere, is 'Get tested regularly', 'Get tested early' etc, rather than the safer sex 'condom' messages of previous years. Shouldn't a combined message be pushed?

A combination approach is absolutely essential. Without a vaccine or a cure for HIV, it is probably the only way to reduce HIV incidence in the longer term.

Our campaign explicitly takes a combination approach. The first campaign is focused on HIV testing, partly for the reasons I said earlier. But the safer sex message will also be a huge part of future campaigns, which is why our tagline is itself a combination: Test, Protect: Prevent HIV.

That word 'Protect' is crucial because it refers not just to condom use, but also to treatment as prevention (TasP) which is scientifically proven to prevent a positive person on effective treatment from passing the infection on to sexual partners.

But I don’t think anyone should forget the broader issues that also help drive the ongoing epidemic of HIV and STIs. I’m talking here about wider issues which affect our sexual health, such as drug and alcohol use, poverty, stigma, social isolation, high numbers of sexual partners, mental health problems. These things are the underlying concerns that we should all be talking about as a community.

For more information, visit doitlondon.org, follow the campaign on Twitter @DoItLdn or 'like' it on www.facebook.com/doitLDN

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