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'What volunteering at a pop-up HIV self test shop taught me'

PICTURED: Yvette Twagiramariya and Prince Harry

LAST YEAR during National HIV Testing Week (Saturday 18 November - Friday 24 November) I volunteered at the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV self-test pop-up shop. Terrence Higgins Trust is Britain’s leading sexual health and HIV charity.

On the launch day at the shop I got the opportunity to meet Prince Harry, which is still to date one of my biggest career achievements. I took a live HIV test to show him how the self-test kits work. He was extremely friendly and clued up when it came to HIV/AIDS.

I have been working with the Terrence Higgins Trust for a few years now, and in that time I have learned so many new and interesting things about HIV.

For example, I didn’t know that people living with HIV on effective treatment can’t pass on the virus to others. But after looking at the recent YouGov poll results on attitudes towards HIV, I knew that there were more people like me who needed to be educated on HIV transmission.

Only 14% of people in London believe that people on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on.

I also didn’t know you could give birth to a HIV negative baby when you’re HIV positive. Paida Mutopo, who also occasionally works with the Terrence Higgins Trust, is HIV positive. Back in 2016 she gave birth to her son who is HIV negative. So yet again I found out that one of myths I had been told about HIV transmission had proven to be false.

What surprised me the most was when I found out that people can live with HIV for between 3 and 5 years without symptoms. This is why it is so important to get tested regularly, as you could be living with HIV and unknowingly spreading it to your sexual partners.

It’s crucial for my fellow Africans to start learning how to take their sexual health seriously. This involves getting tested regularly, and educating ourselves on HIV and STI prevention. Especially since according to the most recent Public Health England report, we’re one of the most at risk groups.

According to the report, black African men and women accounted for 39% of new diagnoses in England in 2016.

This is despite the fact that black African people make up just 1.8% of the population in England, according to the 2011 census.

For this reason Terrence Higgins Trust is currently offering FREE HIV self-test kits to everyone who is sexually active - but with a special call to black African communities and men in same-sex relationships who are at higher risk.

As someone who has used the test kits before, I can honestly say it’s very easy to use and confidential. The great thing about it is that you are in control of when and where you want to take that test.

It really is sad to think that there are still people within the community who all the research in the world isn’t enough to debunk their outdated perception of what it’s like to live with HIV in society today.

It’s time we start educating our communities, and getting them to acknowledge that people who have contracted HIV can live a long, fulfilled and most importantly healthy life.

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