It’s HIV Testing Week and to celebrate we welcomed Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes and lead minister for Sexual Health and HIV, to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.
The former nurse was given a tour of our Brighton and Hove Sexual Health and Contraception Service (SHAC) along with local MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, shining a light on our work to bring an end to new cases of HIV in Sussex by 2030 and address HIV stigma.
Testing at your fingertips
The SHAC team talked through the importance of more frequent and equitable testing and Maria even had a finger-prick test to see for herself just how quick and easy it is.
In Brighton & Hove a world-first Trust initiative HIV Testing in the Community has contributed to recently acquired HIV infections reducing from 33% in 2018 to 8% in 2021.
Established by UHSussex’ Dr Gillian Dean and the SHAC/Lawson Unit team in partnership with The Martin Fisher Foundation, several smart vending machines are located around the city in public places dispensing free HIV self-testing kits, giving a result in just 15 minutes from a single drop of blood.
Stamping out stigma
Despite this progress, HIV-associated discrimination and stigma remains a challenge. Maria heard about the positive impact of several projects designed to help us achieve our goal to become a stigma free hospital.
This includes HIV Allies, which was set up in last year in response to data showing HIV patients in the South East were worried they were treated differently in hospital. We now have around 30 allies and we are continuing to recruit colleagues to help us reduce experiences of HIV stigma and create a safe environment for everyone.
Meanwhile, our joined up working with Sussex HIV networks sees us continue to improve public awareness through stigma busting campaigns, and develop a series of resilience workshops for those living with HIV. We are also working with medical and dental students to change knowledge and attitudes.
Time to act
HIV Testing Week is once again an important reminder for us all to have conversations about testing and take action to know our status.
UHSussex Chief Medical Officer and specialist in HIV medicine, Charlotte Hopkins, who attended the visit with Maria, said: “The earlier you know your status, the sooner you can receive free treatment and support, and avoid passing on the virus to anyone else. All it takes is a quick and easy finger-prick test.”
To access a test today, please visit the SHAC website.