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World aids day in southend: take charge and get tested

Taking charge of your sexual health is a key part of overall wellbeing, yet myths and stigma can create barriers to seeking necessary care. In this blog, Rutendo Chitiga, a Health Promotion Coordinator at Brook Southend, addresses some common questions and outlines what Brook Southend are doing this World AIDS Day.   

Why should I get tested for HIV? 

An estimated 1 in 6 people living with HIV in the UK do not know they have the virus. Thanks to effective testing and treatment, people living with HIV can live long and healthy lives.  

HIV is a manageable condition if someone is on treatment. Their viral load eventually becomes undetectable which means that the virus cannot be passed on, even during condomless sex. This is called U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable).  

Knowing your status is the first step to starting treatment, and the only way to know your status is to take a test. 

HIV symptoms can take years to appear so if you have sex without a condom, it’s important to get tested.  

When should I test for HIV? 

It can take up to 6 weeks after sex without a condom before HIV will show up on STI tests.

This is known as its window period and means it’s important to wait 6 weeks before testing, else it might give you an inaccurate result. 

You should test for HIV just like you test for other STIs. We recommend doing this every three months or after each new sexual partner. If you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship it’s still a good idea to get tested yearly. 

How can I get tested? 

Getting tested is free, quick and easy.  

Home testing kits are available in many locations, allowing you to get tested without having to come to a clinic. Order an STI home test kit online, when your test arrives, collect a sample of blood from your finger using a lancet and send it back in the post, receiving your results within a few days.  

For some people it can be a bit tricky to get enough blood to complete your sample (see our top tips here), and lots of people would prefer not to do it themselves. That’s why HIV testing is always accessible in person from sexual health clinics.  

Anyone can get a HIV test at Brook Southend. If you are over 18, you can attend our community drop ins and get tested confidentially by our team. Please visit our Facebook page for details of upcoming HIV testing drop ins.

I feel embarrassed visiting a sexual health clinic, what can I do? 

Whatever your reason for coming to a sexual health clinic, there is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed; prioritizing your sexual health is an essential aspect of self-care. At Brook, we create a safe, inclusive, non-judgmental environment to make you feel at ease.  

In Southend you can also access sexual health services digitally via our website if you are vulnerable or visit our outreach team in the community for HIV testing with instant results. You can also book an appointment at one of our clinic drop-ins.

How can I protect myself from HIV? 

So we’ve talked about testing for HIV but what can you do to protect yourself from getting HIV?

The most important thing is to use condoms when you have sex.

Condoms act as a barrier that helps prevent the spread of HIV and other potential STIs.  

For people that are at a higher risk of getting HIV, PrEP (HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a pill taken before and after sex that provides near-complete protection from HIV (99% effective). PrEP is made of two antiretroviral medicines and has been used as part of HIV treatment for many years. PrEP is not a vaccine and only provides protection from HIV as long as you continue to take it as prescribed.  You can get PrEP for free on the NHS and from most sexual health clinics. It is a very effective tool for people at risk of HIV, especially those who may find it difficult to use condoms every time.   

I’m an immigrant, can I access HIV testing and treatment? 

Sexual health services are free and available to everyone, regardless of sex, age, ethnic origin and sexual orientation therefore you can use our service if you are an immigrant. If you have a disability and have special requirements, or if English is not your first language, you should speak to staff at the clinic before visiting so we can make sure the correct arrangements are in place to support you and provide the best care. 

Brook also offers translations services in Southend, and we welcome immigrants and asylum seekers to our clinic and our community HIV testing events.

HIV treatment in the UK is free of charge for everyone regardless of their immigration status as long as they live in the UK. 

What’s happening in Southend for World AIDS Day? 

In Southend this year, we are breaking down the stigma around HIV and normalising testing. We know that HIV does not discriminate, regardless of gender, ethnicity, social background or sexual preferences.   

We are some events to raise awareness from w/c 27th November, and this is how you can get involved: 

  • Tuesday, 28/11/2023: Community Champions- Coffee and Chat, Community Champions WAD focused drop in, 12pm-2pm   
  • Wednesday, 29/11/2023: point of care testing at Shoebury East PCN-Norton Place, Free HIV Testing, 1pm-4pm 
  • Thursday, 30/11/2023: HIV PrEP and Stigma Professionals’ Training, on Zoom, 10am-1pm 
  • Friday 01/12/2023: HIV Testing at Southend Central Library, Free HIV Testing, general STI testing and free condoms, 11am -3.30pm 
  • Daily: Our Southend clinic also offers free drop-ins every weekday. We are located on the first floor of the Southend Victoria Plaza.  

#TakeCharge

Take a look at our socials throughout December for more HIV content through our #TakeCharge Campaign

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