All sexually active individuals encouraged to take HIV test

  • ITV Wales Health reporter Katie Fenton discussed the dangerous stigma surrounding the condition.

Sexually active people are being reminded that anyone can get HIV. Community groups and healthcare professionals are stressing the importance of regular testing in order to protect yourself and others.

Early diagnosis of HIV means that those living with it can access treatment which allows them to live as long as anyone else. Effective treatment can stop transmission as the amount of virus in the blood is reduced to undetectable levels.

People who do not test positive for HIV may also be eligible for PrEP- Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis medication which prevents the infection from getting into the body.

Free HIV tests are available to anyone in Wales, and consist of an easy to use finger-prick test kit which can be ordered from Sexual Health Wales' website.

The test can be sent to an address of your choice, and the results are completely confidential.

Marlon van der Mark has urged more people to regularly test for HIV. Credit: ITV Wales

Marlon van der Mark lives with the condition and raises awareness online, he told ITV News: "I was thinking I can't live like this, I can't live fearing when the next person’s going to find out, or if my family’s going to find out. So I decided to take control of the story myself. This is my story, this has happened to me, I have the right to tell it, no one else”.

He continued: "Education is still lacking a lot, it needs to be on the forefront for you to be able to stop it. If we’re planning on stopping the new transmissions by 2030 then someone needs to push it forward a bit more because so many people are still naive to it.

"There are people out there to help you and the medication is so advanced now, it’s so amazing that you can’t pass it on to someone once you’re undetectable. So get the test". 

The Welsh Government's HIV Action Plan for Wales aims to eliminate all new HIV cases and achieve zero tolerance of HIV-related stigma by 2030.

Speaking to ITV News, Dr Giri Shankar, Director of Health Protection at Public Health Wales, said: "It is an ambitious target, it’s a challenging target, but if we come together and everybody plays their part, it is achievable, it is a realistic target.

"It’s a challenging one no doubt but that requires sustained effort and coordination across a multi agency partnership working".

There has been a significant reduction in new diagnoses of HIV in Wales. Between 2015 and 2021 new diagnosis of HIV decreased by 75%.

"Sometimes stigma can be more harmful for the individual than HIV itself”, said Dr Giri Shankar Credit: ITV Wales

Dr Shankar continued: "One of the main things we also want to encourage is to normalise this testing. There is still a lot of apprehension amongst our population just to even take a test because sometimes just the diagnosis of HIV can be quite stigmatising to people.

"And we want to make sure we break that barrier and we want to make sure that they access treatment very quickly. Sometimes stigma can be more harmful for the individual than HIV itself”.

During this year's Wales HIV Testing Week, Zoe Couzens, Head of Programme for Sexual Health at Public Health Wales, said: "Wales HIV Testing Week gives us an opportunity to reiterate the importance of regular testing, because HIV can affect anyone who is having condomless sex.

“In Wales, HIV testing has never been easier and the process is completely confidential. Making testing accessible is a key part of the Welsh Government’s HIV Action Plan.

A free, easy to use finger-prick HIV test kit can be ordered from Sexual Health Wales’ website.

"Knowing your status means that those who need antiretroviral treatment, can access it and live a long and healthy life. By being on treatment they cannot pass HIV on to others.”

She continued: "Investment from the Welsh Government means that this year’s Wales HIV Testing Week will be the biggest ever, and working with volunteers and community groups will help us reach more people than ever before.”

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