HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust is to mark National HIV Testing Week (22nd – 30th November) by relaunching its highly popular postal HIV testing service for gay and bisexual men.
The Fastest Direct service is a collaboration between Terrence Higgins Trust and Public Health England, with additional funding and support from HIV Prevention England. It is available free of charge to gay and bisexual men living in England. Men wanting to test will be able to place an order at www.startswithme.org.uk and receive an HIV test kit delivered to their door. The process involves a simple finger-prick blood test, which is then posted in a pre-paid envelope to a laboratory for testing. Results are returned within 14 days, either by text message (for negative results), or with a telephone call to provide support and referral to a specialist HIV service (for reactive results).
In 2013, there were an estimated 43,500 gay and bisexual men living with HIV in the UK, one in six of whom remain undiagnosed. Undiagnosed infection is widely recognised as a key factor driving the UK’s HIV epidemic, as someone who remains undiagnosed is much more likely to pass the virus on unwittingly than someone who has tested and is on treatment. National HIV Testing Week was established by Terrence Higgins Trust and HIV Prevention England in 2012, in a bid to reduce high levels of undiagnosed and late-diagnosed HIV among gay men and Africans in England.
In 2013, Terrence Higgins Trust ran a pilot postal HIV testing scheme in England, which demonstrated significant demand and acceptability for the option to test for HIV at home. Around 32% of those who returned a test had never tested for the virus before, and 25% had not tested in the last 12 months. 97% of users agreed that they would use the service again.
Cary James, Head of Health Improvement for Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “There are more than 7,000 gay and bi men in the UK who have HIV but don’t yet know they have it. To slow the spread of the virus, we need to take every opportunity to get more people testing more regularly, and that includes finding new ways to reach people outside of the clinic. We are very pleased to be relaunching Fastest Direct, and we would encourage anyone who hasn’t tested before, or perhaps hasn’t tested in some time, to take advantage of the service and be sure of their HIV status.”
In April 2014, the sale of HIV self-testing kits – where a person performs an HIV test on themselves and receives an immediate result – became legal in the UK. However, no kit has yet been approved that is available for sale.
For further information on HIV testing, or to request a postal HIV test, please visit www.startswithme.org.uk.