NAT calls for annual testing recommendation for African men and women.
NAT has long been supportive of the annual HIV testing recommendation for gay men, and is now calling for an annual testing recommendation for sexually active African men and women in the UK.
There are an estimated 24,000 African people diagnosed with HIV in the UK and Africans now account for two-thirds of HIV positive people infected through heterosexual sex. In addition, in 2010 over 60% of Africans were diagnosed late – after the point at which treatment should have started – which can have a serious impact on life expectancy.
Recent guidelines from NICE make specific suggestions for when African people should test, such as at the beginning of a new relationship. However, they do not suggest an annual test for all sexually active Africans – despite this being an explicit recommendation in the parallel guidance for gay men.
The importance of an annual testing recommendation is further highlighted by how poor we are at assessing personal risk. Research among Africans living in the UK by Sigma Research revealed that 40% of respondents had never tested for HIV, and the main reason for not testing was because they had ‘no reason to think I have HIV’ (53%). This is despite the fact that a quarter of all those who had had sex saying that they did not use a condom.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:
‘Current HIV testing guidelines for African men and women do not go far enough. NICE testing guidelines will be reviewed later this year and NAT is calling for the inclusion of an explicit recommendation for annual HIV testing amongst sexually active Africans.
’it is clear from the number of Africans affected by HIV in the UK and the number diagnosed late, that we need to improving testing in these communities. Last week's announcement that HIV treatment will be free to all those who need it in England from October adds another incentive for regular testing, as there will no longer be barriers to treatment based on residency status.
'Of course an annual testing recommendation alone is not enough to increase the uptake of HIV testing, but such a recommendation would highlight the importance of regular testing and underline the fact that HIV is still an issue in the UK. It would also make clear to healthcare workers that they should offer African people an HIV test, cutting down the many missed opportunities to diagnose HIV in primary care settings.
'An annual testing recommendation should not come at the expense of African health promotion and prevention programmes in the UK. More work is needed to inform people about HIV, the benefits of testing and early diagnosis, and how it can be prevented.'
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Notes to the editor:
All statistics are from the Health Protection Agency. Please visit www.hpa.org.uk for more details.
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NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.
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