Mr Tom Doyle is the chief executive of Yorkshire MESMAC and it’s group of services. He would like to share this important message with you all regarding HIV awareness and infection. Please read and remember that the best cure is prevention! 

Tom Doyle - Chief Exec of Yorkshire MESMAC

Tom Doyle – Chief Exec of Yorkshire MESMAC

Protection, Testing, Treatment, Take Action

Out of 6,280 people in the UK newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011, 3,010 (47%) were men who have sex with men (MSM) according to the Health Protection Agency’s HIV in the United Kingdom: 2012 Report.

As a community we need to stop burying our heads in the sand, denying that HIV still exists and thinking that it won’t happen to me. The rate of unprotected sex within our community has been increasing leading to further infections in men of all age groups from 19 years old upwards. During 1990-2010, the number of men who have sex with men having sex without a condom increased by 26%, as a direct consequence, the number of HIV infections within our community has also been on the increase since 2007.

Currently the HIV prevalence rate in MSM is 1 in 20 MSM nationwide, in London itself, nearly 1 in 12 MSM are HIV positive. This has not gone down. Men who have sex with men will have the dubious distinction of being the community most affected by HIV unless we adopt P3T: Protection, Testing, Treatment, Take Action.

Protection

Using condoms and plenty of water based or silicone lube consistently during sex is still the most effective method of avoiding HIV infection. Even if you have condoms on 90% of the time, that one slip up, one drunken one night stand, one guy you have been dating can still infect you with HIV.

If you have a new partner and want to discuss not using condoms with each other; bear in mind that people do cheat on each other so have an open and realistic discussion on how you both will manage that risk, get tested for all STIs including HIV and think carefully about you as well as your partner.

Testing.

The only way to know if you have HIV or don’t have HIV is to be tested for HIV and yet compared to other countries such as America we have poor rates of MSM testing for HIV in the UK.

For men who have sex with men we recommend at least twice a year or every three months if you are having unprotected sex.

First of all, reducing undiagnosed HIV early is important because it is easier to be healthy. Late diagnosis is still the leading cause of HIV related illness and death. Those who know they have HIV early on can do something about it. By starting treatment at the recommended time it is expected that you will live longer, healthy lives than someone who is diagnosed late.

Studies show people who find out late are 10 times more likely to die in the following year. In MSM, the numbers diagnosed late has dropped from 48% in 2002 to 35% in 2011. As a result more MSM are living longer and healthier lives.

Secondly, undiagnosed HIV fuels the spread of new infections. The Health Protection Agency estimates that 82% of HIV in MSM is caught from an undiagnosed sexual partner. This is even more

extraordinary as we know that roughly 20% of MSM are undiagnosed. That small 20% of undiagnosed MSM could be responsible for 82% of infections.

Yorkshire MESMAC has pioneered free, fast and convenient HIV testing services in the community as we believe that there is no such thing as a hard to reach group but hard to access services. You can call Yorkshire MESMAC to arrange an HIV test by appointment at a day and time of your choosing, come to one of our regular HIV testing drop-in sessions or one of our testing events such as National HIV Testing Week. Our test uses a small finger-prick of blood, and in 20 minutes, tells you what your HIV status was 12 weeks previously.

In Wakefield we are fortunate to have an excellent HIV and sexual health centre with some of the shortest waiting times and one of the few out Gay sexual health doctors in the region Dr Lee. The Sexual Health Centre offers a blood test that can tell you what your HIV status was four weeks previously, using a sample of blood from your arm and with results back in two weeks.

Treatment

HIV treatments have never been better, if taken properly there is no reason why a person that gets diagnosed early shouldn’t live until their late years. Side effects are uncommon and can be managed. If a person doesn’t take well to their treatment because of side effects, the medication can be changed.

HIV treatment reduces the amount of HIV in your body which is known as your viral load. A person with a low viral load is far less likely to transmit HIV than a person with a high viral load. Undiagnosed HIV positive people will have higher viral loads and therefore be more infectious. Recent studies estimate that if a person is on the medication, has undetectable levels of the virus in their blood and no other STIs, that the likelihood of HIV transmission in heterosexuals has been reduced by as much as 96%.

Take action

Our call for action is for each and every one of us to take care of each other – whether in the bar, in bed or on the street. Talk to your friends and family about HIV, be open about HIV and let’s reduce the level of HIV infection and stigma in our community. Whenever you hear people discriminating against folk living with HIV, challenge it – take a stand and take action yourself by using condoms consistently and being tested at least twice a year.

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