Terrence Higgins Trust and the Health Protection Agency announced at the end of January that they were launching a pilot scheme which would allow gay and bisexual men to access an ‘at home’ testing kit for HIV.
In the two weeks since the announcement over 800 of the kits have been sent out. Never one to shy away from a challenge our editor Jake Simpson, sent off for a kit.
A nondescript, white padded envelope landed on my desk one morning, but I had a hunch that it’d be the kit, and I have to be honest it sat, neglected, in my in-tray for five days whilst I became the king of displacement activity in an attempt to put off the test. ‘This is silly, just get on with it,’ I thought, but in reality were my fears misplaced? Can we as a community take for granted the knowledge of our status? Last December the Terrence Higgins Trust announced the staggering news that new HIV infections amongst gay and bisexual men had risen to levels which greatly exceeded figures from the 80s. Have we as a community become complacent about safer sex? Are we just all assuming we’re ok? It may surprise you to know that 20% of gay men living with HIV have no idea they actually have it – and early detection is vital for long term health.
In all sincerity I haven’t had a sexual health test in 8 years, because that’s how long I’ve been with my partner – but in this day and age, what does that really mean? Can anyone really truly put their hand on heart and claim they know their status regardless of their romantic involvement?
So in a rare moment of bravery, I unpacked the contents of said nondescript padded envelope, read the accompanying letter and looked down upon the kit. It all seems a bit simple really. Pin prick to finger, blood from finger to card, put card in prepaid envelope and send back to lab. Simple. The pin prick was a simple, painless experience, the anticipation of the prick is worse than the actual “pain”, but still there was an inexplicable feeling of dullness as I put blood to paper, why? I guess it’s because it’s the truth right there in red and white. The test the labs use for HIV detection are a 4th generation HIV test, which will detect the HIV infection after a window period of 4 weeks, even from the dried blood on the test’s card.
You then simply put the test into the envelope provide and drop it into the post and then the dreaded week long wait.
The information pack included with the kit, says it could take longer if the demand was extraordinarily high. You’ll get a text if it’s negative or a phone call to provide support and refer you to a specialist HIV service if the result is ‘reactive’.
The problem is that for the next week I was constantly looking at my phone, slightly terrified should any unknown numbers call – and I was on edge every-time the phone vibrated with a text. It’s slightly unnerving and I have to say my love affair with my mobile wained in the week I waited for my results. I’ll even admit to locking my trusty iPhone in the office filing cabinet. Then, a buzz from inside the filing cabinet at 17:17PM Valentine’s eve, announced that my phone had received a text message. A simple text to let me know that ‘your recent home test is negative’.
If you’re too nervous to go to a clinic to get a test I would recommend you visit: http://www.tht.org.uk/sexual-health/HIV-STIs/HIV-AIDS/HIV-postal-test to order your home-test before the pilot scheme ends.
Ultimate the test was experience that I can recommend especially if you’re just too nervous to go in person to a clinic for a test. We owe to ourselves as a community to know our status and we can only do that if we get tested regularly.