Fear of HIV tests despite '˜Prince Harry effect'

Official statistics released today reveal '˜unacceptable' rates of late-stage HIV in Scotland.

Cork, Ireland

Figures show that of the 302 people who were newly diagnosed in Scotland last year, nearly a third (31 per cent) had late-stage HIV - where the virus has already done a lot of damage and increasing the risk of transmitting the virus to other sexual partners.

Experts from Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, the HIV and AIDS charity, say many people are avoiding getting tested and are putting their health at risk because of stigma, fear, or the assumption that they not affected by HIV.

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The trust which released the figures ahead of HIV Testing Week which starts on Saturday, says more people being seen for HIV care in Scotland (4,191 compared to 4,009 in 2014).

However the charity said that after Prince Harry took an HIV test earlier this year in front of the world’s media - the trust saw a five-fold increase in demand for self-test kits.

Robert McKay, the trust’s national director for Scotland, said there needed to be cultural shift in attitudes in testing and said the charity would be sending workers out to local communities during HIV Testing Week to highlight the need for testing.

“These statistics show that HIV Testing Week is needed more than ever in Scotland. The HIV epidemic hasn’t gone away; there are still alarming and unacceptable rates of late diagnoses.

“We already have a powerful tool that could help stop the epidemic in its tracks: the HIV test. People who know their status can get onto effective treatment, which stops the virus from being passed on.

“But too many people are missing out on HIV tests – perhaps due to fear of the result, or the assumption that they’re not at risk.

“These statistics remind us that HIV is an issue for everyone. As European HIV Testing Week approaches, we want to create a culture shift so that regular testing becomes the norm here in Scotland.”

Mr MaKay added: “The ‘Prince Harry effect’ showed us just now much work there is still to be done to tackle stigma around testing for HIV - as soon as one high profile individual lifted the lid on how easy it is to take an HIV test, people’s fear temporarily evaporated.

“We hope that HIV Testing Week is another chance to demystify the process of getting tested. HIV testing is free, fast, confidential and has never been easier. You can test in a hospital, sexual health clinic, at a community event, by post, or even at home.”

Dr Christian Jessen, a longstanding supporter of HIV Testing Week, said: “I’m a fervent champion of HIV Testing Week. I often find that people are really afraid of taking an HIV test – it can sound like a daunting prospect, but honestly it isn’t. Testing puts you in control.

“One in six people living with HIV do not know they have it are therefore likely to unwittingly pass on the virus.

“On the other hand, those who get a positive result and onto effective treatment can live a long and healthy life, and cannot pass on HIV to others. It’s a no brainer.

“The challenge is now to bust the stigma tha