HIV testing should be seen as routine as protecting yourself against flu, Prince Harry says

Despite tumbling diagnosis rates, 43 per cent of cases still diagnosed too late to prevent immune system damage

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Saturday 17 November 2018 12:18
The Duke of Sussex shares video message to mark the start of National HIV Testing Week

HIV testing should be seen as normal and sensible a precaution as getting a flu jab to protect yourself over winter, according to Prince Harry who is heading a campaign to end stigma that is leading to late diagnosis.

To mark the start of National HIV Testing Week the Duke of Sussex has released a video appeal saying that getting tested regularly is “something to be proud of”.

“There is still too much stigma, which is stopping so many of us from getting a simple, quick and easy test. We won’t bring an end to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus until testing is seen as completely normal and accessible for everyone,” Prince Harry said.

“Taking an HIV test is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Two years ago, I took a test and the whole process was actually really easy; the result came back within just a few minutes.”

The fight against the HIV epidemic is at a “pivotal moment” with new treatments able to virtually eliminate the chance the disease will be passed on, but this only works for people aware they are infected.

Currently one in eight people with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed and unaware that they have the disease, meaning they are more likely to pass it on and also to miss out on medication that can prevent it developing into AIDs.

In 2017, 43 per cent of new HIV cases were diagnosed at a late stage, after the virus had already begun to damage the immune system, according to Public Health England figures.

This is despite the welcome news that new diagnoses In the UK have fallen 28 per cent in the past two years, thanks in large part to “game changer” treatments like the Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada.

While gay and bisexual men still account for the majority of the HIV population, they are also more aware of the disease and treatments like PrEP.

However, 47 per cent of people with the disease are heterosexuals and are more likely to be diagnosed late, particularly older people and those from black African communities.

‘While we’ve seen impressive declines in new HIV diagnoses over the past two years, much more needs to be done to drive down rates of undiagnosed and late-stage HIV,” Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said. “That’s why National HIV Testing Week and His Royal Highness’s support are so important.”

“It’s an ambitious aim, but we have a real opportunity to get to zero new HIV infections in the UK,” he added.

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said those who are tested and get caught early go on to live a “long and healthy life”.

“You can take a test in your own home or at sexual health services, GPs, healthcare and community settings nationwide. In many cases the test involves a simple finger prick and results are ready within minutes.”

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