The treatments that have been developed for HIV over the last twenty years mean that the condition is now seen as a chronic, but highly manageable condition. People infected with HIV, who are diagnosed and put on these treatments, can expect to lead full and healthy lives, with an only slightly shorter life expectancy than someone who is HIV negative.
This, of course, is a significant change from the early days of HIV diagnosis, when, for a number of years, there were no treatments available and many people died as a result of developing AIDS. HIV was seen as a death sentence and indeed, in the early 1990s, a government heath campaign used black and white images of gravestones and icebergs to symbolise the illness.
The development of AZT, an antiretroviral medication that prevented HIV from developing into AIDS and then other, even more effective, treatments over the last two decades have meant that HIV is now something which can be easily and effectively managed.
It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that in order to treat HIV infection the person who has been infected needs first to be diagnosed. This means that he or she has to have an HIV test. The trouble is that, often people who are infected with HIV, do not know that they are carrying the virus and therefore do not seek medical attention. This is where problems arise. A person who is carrying the HIV virus without realizing the fact will not be on treatment, a fact that can lead to serious complications and, eventually, the onset of AIDS. It also means that the carrier may infect their sexual partners without even realizing it. People who are infected with HIV but not on treatment have a high viral load and are much more likely to be infectious than those who are on treatment.
Part of the problem with diagnosing HIV is the way that the infection has, and to a certain extent, still is misconceived- as a condition the primarily effects gay men or intravenous drug users. HIV infection has been on the rise in heterosexual people for many years so the idea that it only affects these two groups is wrong and misguided. Last year more than 50% of new diagnoses were in the heterosexual population. More information on this statistic is available at the National Trust website.
Secondly, HIV testing has until recently been a complicated and timely procedure with it necessary for the patient to go to GUM clinic or hospital to have blood taken which was then sent off to a laboratory to be tested. This could take a week and the wait in the clinic meant, and means, that many people have been put off having the test.
New developments in HIV testing, however, mean that it is a now much quicker and easier than ever before. It is now possible to test for HIV using a tiny amount of blood in what is known as a pinprick test. This also means that HIV testing has recently, for the first time, become available in the form of a test, which may be carried out at home, which again makes it far more convenient than ever before to have an HIV test.
Hampshire NHS Trust is offering free, sixty second, HIV testing in local community centres in a bid to encourage people to find out their HIV status. At present there are about 1500 people living in Hampshire with HIV, but the trust reckons there are at least another three hundred people who are infected who have not yet been diagnosed. The trust hopes that diagnosing people who are infected with HIV will help to reduce the number of transmissions of the disease. You can find out more about accessing this test here.
The test requires literally a few drops of blood from someone’s finger and can produce an accurate result in less than one minute. The trust provides counseling before, during and after the test is given.
If you are outside Hampshire then your will not qualify for this test but you should check with your own local healthcare trust. If your local area is not providing this service then you can access free HIV tests through the Terrence Higgins Trust. The free tests through the charity do take 14 days to report results, which might be too long for many people but it is a reliable and free service available to anyone in the UK.
There are also private healthcare providers that are able to carry out postal HIV tests in the UK and these tend to be much quicker but there is a price to pay. The average price is around £40 but this varies. One of the leading providers of postal testing accessed online is Private Doctor Direct, where HIV tests are available with a 4 hour results service from when the sample is received. As with all finger-prick HIV tests, any positive result must be followed up with a venous sample at a clinic.
HIV, if diagnosed in time, is no longer seen as a terminal condition. In fact those people who are diagnosed early and put on the correct medication can have a near normal life expectancy.
The Hampshire NHS Trust is hoping that offering this quick, easy and convenient test will reduce the number of people who are living in the county with HIV who are yet to be diagnosed.
Health comes through relaxed people