Health, fitness and Food

Now that HIV treatment is free for all, there’s no better time to test

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The UK government has finally announced a change in the law that will allow free treatment for people who are diagnosed with HIV, regardless of their immigration status. The move is good news to failed asylum seekers, who have had no entitlement to free NHS treatment for HIV, and follows years of lobbying by AIDS charities, including the National AIDS Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust (THT). Campaigners had argued that charging for HIV treatment risked the health of individuals and could lead to a more generalised spread of the disease within the UK population.

In practice, though, the change in the law formalises what has, for some time, been happening on the ground. Many NHS doctors treating asylum seekers for HIV have not been insisting on payment, or had the medical bills written off. Still, the change in the regulation is crucial because it gives asylum seekers with HIV, including those with a fear of engaging with authorities, the confidence to seek early treatment. Equally significant, it gives asylum seekers a fresh incentive to seek HIV testing. In the past, they’d reason: “Why should I test when I can’t afford the treatment?”

One in four people in the UK who have HIV do not know they are infected because they haven’t tested. It’s likely that a significant percentage of those in this category are asylum seekers. Hopefully, now that treatment is free, there’s no better time to test.

 

Why you should test
There are real advantages in knowing your HIV status.

If you are negative:

  • You will have a stronger reason to remain free of the virus through taking precautions, such as not having sex at all or using condoms;
  • It may help you to decide whether you and your partner should have a baby;
  • If your partner is also negative, you may decide you do not need to use condoms every time you have sex;
  • It might help you make better plans for your future and that of dependants.

If you are positive:

  • You will have the opportunity to discuss treatment and care options with your doctor;
  • You can start taking medication, knowing that with proper treatment, you will be in good health for a very long time;
  • You will be able to make better plans for yourself and your dependants;
  • If you’re positive and partner negative, you can discuss with your doctor how to protect your partner from acquiring the infection;
  • If you and your partner are both positive and you want a baby, you can discuss with your doctor what precautions to take to minimise the risk of HIV transmission to the baby.

Where to get tested

  • HIV tests are conducted at most sexual health clinics or at Genito-Urinary Medicine (or GUM) clinics in NHS hospitals. To find out about a clinic near to where you live, please call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or visit www.mambo.org.uk

About the author

Joseph Ochieng is Editor of Mambo, the healthier lifestyle magazine published by Terrence Higgins Trust (THT). Check out the magazine by logging on www.mambo.org.uk

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