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“We are thriving, not just surviving” - people living with HIV in the South West are urging others to get regularly tested, as it is revealed almost half of new cases are diagnosed late.
According to Public Health England, a late diagnosis can see someone’s risk of serious illness or death increase by more than ten times.
Getting the virus detected early means you can live a “long, normal and healthy life”, says Bristol activist Aled Osborne.
Aled, 32, is HIV positive and works for Brigstowe - a Bristol charity that supports people living with the long-term health condition.
He said: “People are still fearful and scared of going to get tested, and they have lots of connotations around testing. What we just need to do is get the message out there that in 2021, if you are diagnosed then it’s going to be okay.
“There’s medication out there, and the treatment is so good, that you will live a long, normal, healthy life.”
"People living with HIV now are thriving, we’re not surviving," he added.
"We’re gonna be around for a long time, so there’s no need to be fearful. It’s always better to know your status than to not know your status.”
The number of eligible people in the South West going to get tested for HIV has dropped to below the national average, according to Public Health England.
Also, almost half (43.6%) of those who tested positive for the virus between 2017 and 2019 were given a late diagnosis.
“Late stage infections have more than a ten-fold increased risk of death in the year following diagnosis compared to those who are diagnosed early and begin treatment immediately,” says a spokesperson from Public Health England.
Ant Babajee, 42 and from Somerset, was diagnosed with HIV 14 years ago and said he shares his experience to show others how much has changed when it comes to treatment.
“I think it’s really, really important that people know how much HIV has changed since those dark days where AIDS first came along in the 80s.
"My HIV is so controlled with medication that I am healthy, but also crucially, I can’t pass the virus on to any of my partners either.”
For more information and support, you can visit:
Terrence Higgins Trust - 0808 802 1221
People from African and Caribbean heritage communities in Bristol are disproportionately affected by HIV, according to the latest figures.
According to Brigstowe, some of the reasons for this include a reluctance to get tested and a lack of access to suitable resources.
Aisha Namurach told ITV West Country: “We know that the information hasn’t been disseminated properly to those communities, about the advances in medication, and we know there’s been nothing to dispel the inherited myths.
“That’s what we need to do. A lot of myth-busting needs to happen.”
The urgent reminder from health experts to everyone is that regular testing is critical.
Norah O'Brien, Sexual Health Facilitator for PHE South West, said: “Regular HIV testing ensures that people who are unaware of their infection are quickly diagnosed and start receiving safe and effective treatment.”
As part of National HIV Testing Week, the organisation is supplying more than 20,000 free at-home kits for people to order.