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It’s National HIV Testing Week this week (1-7 February) and a great opportunity to test for HIV, especially as free at-home sexual health kits are available to City of London residents.

It’s National HIV Testing Week this week (1-7 February) and a great opportunity to test for HIV.

Getting tested regularly reduces the risk of living with HIV without knowing it, and means speedier access to HIV treatment quickly, to help lead a normal life. It’s simple to find out your HIV status; a finger-prick test is all it takes, and you don’t even have to step outside your front door.

For people living in Hackney and the City of London, getting tested is easy and free, and still accessible despite COVID-19 measures.

Discreet, at-home HIV and STI testing kits can be ordered through the Sexual Health London portal – www.shl.uk. If you do not have digital access, it’s still simple to order a test, by calling the local sexual health service on 020 7683 4103, where clinicians will be able to arrange for you to get a test at a clinic

Anyone diagnosed with HIV can access free and effective treatment and a wide range of holistic health and wellbeing support is available to Hackney and City residents.

Positive East (www.positiveeast.org) supports adults living with HIV and Body & Soul (www.bodyandsoulcharity.org) provides support to children, young people, and families affected by HIV.

Randall Anderson, Chairman of City of London Corporation’s Community and Children’s Services Committee, said: “National HIV Testing Week is a reminder of why it is important for people to be regularly tested for HIV.

“While HIV diagnoses have continued to fall, the latest data from Public Health England reports that in England, 43% of all diagnoses were late. This is why it is vital that people are being tested early. This testing is provided for free via the Sexual Health London portal.

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“The new online contraception service just launched for Hackney and City residents aged 16 and over, makes it quicker and easier to access different free methods of contraception, with the ability to have it delivered to your home, if needed. This can be accessed through the Sexual Health London portal.”

Treatments for HIV have come a long way since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. These days, people living with HIV can access free treatment that reduces the level of virus in their bloodstream to such a small level, meaning they can lead a normal, healthy life, and not pass the virus onto others, including sexual partners. This is known as “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable”, or “U=U”.

Being HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence, but getting tested to know your HIV status in the first place is key, as many people can live with the virus for a long time without knowing they have it, meanwhile passing it on to sexual partners. Also, the sooner someone starts on effective treatment, the less chance there is of the virus damaging their health.

Some members of the community are at higher risk of HIV than others, and more regular HIV testing is advised. For example, Terrence Higgins Trust recommends regular HIV and STI testing for Black African men and women, if they are having sex without condoms with new or casual partners.

And for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM), routine testing for HIV and other STIs is recommended at least annually, or every three months if having sex without condoms with new or casual partners.

PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) medication is now freely available to local residents in some of these groups and they are encouraged to access it. Taking PrEP before sex can help to protect you against HIV. Visit www.homerton.nhs.uk/prep to find out more.

Using condoms is an effective way of reducing the transmission of HIV and City and Hackney residents aged under 25 can access free condoms through Come Correct. To find out more about the full range of sexual and reproductive health services available to Hackney and City of London residents, commissioned by the City and Hackney Public Health team, visit  www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/sexualhealth.

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