National HIV Testing Week: Saturday 17- Friday 23 November
No ifs, no buts, it’s time to get tested for HIV
This week’s Boyz cover boy Simon Dunn loves having a good time – frolicking around in his budgie smugglers one day, getting suited and booted for a fancy event the next. But when it comes to getting more of us to think about HIV and get tested, he’s pretty damn serious. The brow furrows, the sexy stare intensifies.
‘I did the live HIV test on my Facebook to show how easy it is to get tested,’ says 31-year-old Simon. ‘There’s no good excuse for gay guys not to get tested and for everyone to have a good awareness of how to stop HIV.
‘Younger people shouldn’t be as complacent as I was. They should be researching [HIV prevention pill] PrEP and thinking about whether it’s right for them, as well as using condoms and testing regularly.’
Simon’s putting his money (and his right index finger) where his mouth is as one of the driving forces behind this year’s National HIV Testing Week, which kicks off on 17 November. This year’s message is ‘Give HIV the finger’ and encourages everyone to take a quick, pain-free finger prick test.
‘I have no reservations about doing this,’ says Simon, passionately. ‘I want to be associated with HIV as a cause and publicly show my support. This is still a major issue and I want to be part of the change. If me putting my name to the cause and supporting Terrence Higgins Trust helps then absolutely I’ll do that.’
And he’s right. Because, while there’s been a 28% drop in new HIV diagnoses over the past two years (yes!), gay and bi men are still the group most affected – accounting for over half of new diagnoses in 2017.
Similarly, a third of gay men diagnosed last year were diagnosed late, which is after they should’ve already started treatment. So, despite the progress that’s been made, now’s not the time for complacency because the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better it is for your health.
‘Testing for HIV and other STIs should be seen in the same way as check ups at the dentist or optician,’ says Simon, who tests every three months or so (and has lovely teeth).
As a rule of thumb, it’s recommended gay guys get tested at least once or twice a year but more regularly if you’re having unprotected sex or have slept with more than one partner.
Testing is key to achieving the ambitious but achievable aim of ending new HIV transmissions in the UK. That’s because around 1 in 8 people living with HIV don’t know they have it, which means they’re not accessing the treatment they need to stay well and also significantly increasing the chances of unwittingly passing on HIV.
As well as protecting the immune system, effective treatment also stops the virus from being passed on to anyone else – with or without a condom. If you doubt the science, fire up Google and look up the PARTNER study, which monitored hundreds of couples over a number of years where one was living with HIV and on effective treatment and the other HIV negative – and found zero HIV transmissions.
That’s why the National HIV Testing Week message is clear: get tested and know your HIV status. Then, if you’re diagnosed, you can access the treatment and support you need to live well with HIV.
You can follow all of the action on Twitter by following @startswith_me and using the hashtag #HIVTestWeek. And look out for our competition where you can win an hour of personal trainer Simon’s time! Wouldn’t that be nice?
The facts about HIV
♦ There were 4,363 new HIV diagnoses last year
♦ Over half of those new diagnoses were in gay or
♦ A third of those gay and bi guys were diagnosed late,
which is after they should’ve started treatment
♦ The earlier you’re diagnosed, the better it is for
♦ HIV treatment is free in the UK and will enable you
to live well with HIV
♦ Effective treatment means people living with HIV
can’t pass on the virus