Lucian Msamati – Why I got Involved with National HIV Testing Week

4 December 2019

Star of stage and screen Lucian Msamati tells us why he’s so passionate about supporting the Give HIV the Finger campaign and normalising HIV testing amongst the British African community.

Lucian Msmati

Every time I test for HIV I am always slightly nervous. I think everyone is nervous when getting tested, especially if it’s your first time. But it’s important to know your status. There is nothing to be afraid of. Getting tested is a sure way to ensure that you’re making your sexual health a priority.

Testing for HIV is free, fast and most importantly confidential; you can now even do it at home thanks to free postal test kits. If you have HIV, the sooner you find out you have it, the better it is for your health. You can start treatment and it is much less likely to have a negative impact on your health or the length of your life.

HIV and AIDS have had a massive effect on the African communities both ‘at home’ and in the diasporas. Growing up in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, even now in an age and times where there is a lot more information and knowledge surrounding HIV and AIDS, we are still in many cases battling societal and cultural norms, taboos and habits that stigmatise HIV even though we know that with effective treatment HIV infection need no longer be the death sentence it once was.

If you have HIV, the sooner you find out you have it, the better it is for your health. You can start treatment and it is much less likely to have a negative impact on your health or the length of your life.

As a black British African man, I think it’s important for me to stand up and be counted. I am very blessed to have the opportunity to use my platform to raise awareness about issues that affect not just myself but also my community. I have lost friends and family to AIDS in the past and at times it’s still difficult for us to acknowledge this.

Knowing that if my family and friends who were affected by HIV were alive today they’d be able to go on effective HIV treatment is bittersweet for me. It’s amazing that we now have the treatment that means that people living with HIV can not only live long and healthy lives but can also not pass it onto their sexual partners.

I want to make sure I am playing my part to ensure that people within my community not only know this but are encouraged to get tested and know their status. If you do anything this National HIV Testing Week, I say go and get tested.

I’m proud to be part of the Give HIV the Finger campaign and play my part in debunking HIV stigma and encouraging people to get tested. It’s time for us to make a change within our communities and look after ourselves and each other by getting tested regularly.


Get tested

Do your bit to end transmission of HIV in the UK by getting tested.

It is extremely important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support enabling you to live a long and healthy life.

In most cases, HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system.

What you can do:

You can also find out:

DJ Fat Tony – Why I’m Involved with National HIV Testing Week

20 November 2019

We caught up with famous DJ Fat Tony to discuss why he’s involved with this year’s National HIV Testing Week.

Fat Tony, NHTW 2019

I think it’s really important to play my part in raising awareness for issues that affect gay men such as myself. Gay and bisexual men are still one of the hardest-hit communities for HIV, and I believe we need more popular figures within our community to take a stand and help raise awareness about the importance of getting tested and knowing your status.

Knowing your status is something to be proud of. If you have HIV, the sooner you find out you have it, the better it is for your health. If everyone played their part in helping raise awareness about the importance of testing, we could be looking at the possibility of ending new HIV transmissions and stigma altogether. It’s amazing to think that this could soon be a reality, especially when we look back at the detrimental impact HIV once had on the gay community back in the early 80s.

HIV treatment has drastically changed over the years, we just need to make sure that the stigma associated with it is also being tackled. Although we may not see the huge HIV campaign posters and public health announcements plastered everywhere as we did back then, this doesn’t mean that HIV has gone away. It’s still rife in many communities in the UK and it’s time we address it.

If everyone played their part in helping raise awareness about the importance of testing, we could be looking at the possibility of ending new HIV transmissions and stigma altogether.

Although organisations like Terrence Higgins Trust have done so much to help debunk stigma, there are still many misconceptions about HIV in society today. It’s shocking to know that in 2019, people not only still think HIV and AIDS are the same thing, but also still associate death with HIV. This is strange to me especially when we all now know that people on effective HIV treatment can now live long healthy lives.

I do believe the gay community as a whole are very much informed about the realities of HIV in today’s society there are still many of us who may still be afraid to get tested. Knowing your status is nothing to be afraid of. The fear is in not knowing which is why I encourage everyone to fight the fear and get tested.

I was scared when I first got tested, it’s natural to feel a bit nervous your first time but it’s important to remember that no matter what the results say, thanks to treatment you can still live your life as normal. Just remember to take your medication and your good to go.


Get tested

Do your bit to end transmission of HIV in the UK by getting tested this National HIV Testing Week, 16 – 22 November 2019.

It is extremely important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support enabling you to live a long and healthy life.

In most cases, HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system.

What you can do:

You can also find out:

Dr Ranj – Why I’m involved with National HIV Testing Week

18 November 2019

We caught up with NHS doctor and TV personality Dr Ranj Singh to find out why he’s supporting National HIV Testing Week.

Ranj, NHTW 2019

Give HIV The Finger is one of the most prominent and popular campaigns that we have in the UK regarding HIV testing. I see the posters everywhere on the bus, on the train and even at work. I got involved in this year’s campaign because as a gay man from an ethnic minority I represent both groups that are drastically affected by HIV in the UK.

From an ethnic minority perspective, we are less likely to come forward, get tested. Even talking about sexual health, in general, is something many just don’t do. Sadly because talking about sex is still a taboo in many communities, many are still very reluctant to get tested and/or get on treatment.

I have wanted to get involved in this campaign for years, and this year the timing was just perfect. I wanted to offer my support to a cause that I believe we all need to be talking more about. It’s great to know that I am now in the position where I can utilise my platform to help educate people on the importance of getting tested and knowing your status.

Sometimes it takes seeing someone who looks like you being represented in campaigns like this to give you the push to go and get tested, and if seeing my face on a poster can encourage at least one person to get tested then I’ll be happy. It’s unfortunate that people’s misconceptions of HIV can deter them from getting tested. Even though we have made so many advances since the 80s, the stigma still remains.

It’s great to know that I am now in the position where I can utilise my platform to help educate people on the importance of getting tested and knowing your status.

I have looked after patients who have HIV, some of my close friends are living with HIV and I must confess that when I was a lot younger due to my lack of knowledge, my opinion of what it was like to live with HIV was clouded by fear. But as society’s understanding and perceptions have changed, so have mine.

Getting tested is nothing to be worried about, I’ve been tested in the past and it’s quick and easy. You’ll be in a better situation knowing your status than not knowing. If you do test positive it’s important to remember HIV is not a death sentence anymore. With effective treatment, people living with HIV can not only live long health lives but they can’t pass it on to others. So no matter what the results are you’re better off knowing either way. You have a responsibility to yourself and your partner(s) to ensure that you look after your sexual health, and part of doing so is getting tested regularly.


Get tested

Do your bit to end transmission of HIV in the UK by getting tested this National HIV Testing Week, 16 – 22 November 2019.

It is extremely important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support enabling you to live a long and healthy life.

In most cases, HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:

Five reasons why you should test for HIV

30 October 2019

It’s National HIV Testing Week from 16 to 22 November, a great opportunity for you to get tested and encourage others to do the same.

Here are five reasons why you should get tested.

1. Be sure of your status.

Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. People sometimes live for years unaware that they have it.

If you’ve never tested, or it’s been more than a year since your last test, it’s a good idea to test now. It’s advised to test once a year – or more often if you’ve had unprotected sex with more than one partner.

If you’re worried about HIV, a test can put your mind at ease.

2. Testing is easy, free and confidential.

Getting your test is quick, easy, and free.

It can be as simple as a finger-prick test.

You can test for HIV in a community service, sexual health clinic, your GP, or even your own home.

3. Take control of your health and stay well.

Stay on top of your health.

If the test result is negative, you can take action to stay that way. If it’s positive, you can get treatment that keeps you healthy and prevents serious illness.

When people get very ill or die because of HIV, it’s usually because of testing late and missing out on treatment.

4. Keep you and your partner healthy.

If you have HIV and don’t know it, you’re more likely to pass it on. But if you know your status, you can make sure you and your partner are taking steps to stay healthy. For example, if you have a positive result, your partner could take PrEP while you start treatment. And if you have a negative result, you might choose to use PrEP yourself.

It takes about six months on treatment to become undetectable. This is when the amount of virus in your blood is so low that you can’t pass it on to other people.

5. Get the treatment and support you need.

In the UK, HIV medication and medical care is free.

If you have HIV, the sooner you start treatment, the better it is for your health.

Taking HIV medication as prescribed and getting an undetectable viral load means you can’t pass on HIV to your partner, even without a condom.

If you test positive, there’s a wealth of information and support to help you live well with HIV.

Order a free HIV postal test

“The fact I’m HIV positive has very little impact on our relationship”

20 October 2019

Matt and Rebecca

Matt is living with HIV and Rebecca isn’t. Because Matt’s on effective HIV treatment he can’t pass the virus on, and so they spend very little time thinking about his HIV status. They’re far too busy getting on with life.

Rebecca

‘The biggest misconception I’d want to clear up is that you cannot have a healthy relationship with someone who is HIV positive. It’s not something to be scared of. As long as you’re informed and educated about it, you can have a happy relationship just like everybody else.

‘Matt has always been very open so if I’ve had any worries or concerns, he’s happy to talk them through. I’ve had HIV tests with the doctor and we talk about any issues. If he had been more reticent, then his status may have had a different impact on me.

‘I would say the best thing you can do is educate yourself and talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about how effective HIV treatment works. When medication is taken correctly, there is virtually no risk of transmission of the virus.

‘The medication is available and people can have a very healthy relationship.’

Matt

‘Me and Rebecca met six years ago and we fell in love. She was very level-headed and had no issues about my HIV status and we moved on from there.

‘We had to take precautions and make sure there was no transmission. Even so, there was never any drama, tears or aggravation so it was as smooth as it could be.

‘To be fair, my status is a very small part of our relationship. We barely talk about the infection itself – all she reminds me is to take my pills from time to time and that’s it. The fact I’m HIV positive has very little impact on our relationship.

‘Having a positive HIV status is not the worst thing that’s happened.’

Get tested

Do your bit to end transmission of HIV in the UK by getting tested this National HIV Testing Week, 16 – 22 November 2019.

It is extremely important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support enabling you to live a long and healthy life.

In most cases HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:

Mum, me and HIV – Andrew’s story

15 October 2019

Andrew Gamez-Heath and mother dressed smartly

How would your mum react if you were diagnosed with HIV? Or your partner, daughter or brother? A HIV diagnosis can come as a shock, but there is life, relationships and sex after HIV.

Here’s what happened when Andrew Gamez-Heath told his mum Alison.

Andrew on Alison

“When I was diagnosed with HIV I knew one of the hardest people to tell was going to be my mum,” says Andrew, who was diagnosed during National HIV Testing Week in 2014.

“As an adult I never wanted to give my parents any unnecessary worry, yet I was faced with having to tell her I had a virus which at the time, neither of us understood. I knew she would be devastated.

“It was 18 months after receiving my diagnosis that I told her and she reacted exactly the way I expected her to. Total panic!

“Since then, she has also has become a bit of an activist, spreading the message that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on to anyone who will listen her. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive parent.

“My advice to anyone living with HIV who maybe hasn’t told their family is to wait until you’re ready and you have got your head round your diagnosis. You may not be as lucky as I was and you may not get the reaction you expect.

“You don’t want to be supporting the person you’re telling when you still need support yourself. Remember once you have told someone you cant ‘un-tell’ them, so make sure it’s someone you trust. Wait until you have all the facts and all the answers to the questions you will be asked.”

Andrew Gamez-Heath as a child, with mother

Alison on Andrew

“When Andrew told me of his HIV diagnosis I felt every emotion in the book; terror, shock, anger and confusion about what was going to happen next,” says Alison about her son.

“How long was he going to live? Would I be able to nurse him? Would he be in pain? These were all the things that went through my brain. Since the 1980s, when there was the public education pieces on the television, I hadn’t heard much about the virus.

“In my mind HIV and AIDS were one and the same thing, something you died from!

“Andrew was calm and had obviously chosen his words wisely and very quickly, in a few minutes, told me that this was not the case and that treatment and medication had come a long way in 30 years.

“My advice for any parent finding out that their son or daughter is HIV positive is ‘don’t panic!’ That is easy to say in hindsight. I have learned so much since Andrew’s diagnosis that I will, at any opportunity, help to educate others to understand what the fairly simple treatment can do and by taking the prescribed medication the virus becomes undetectable so that it cannot be passed on to others.

“I am incredibly proud of Andrew who works for a sexual health charity and, on a daily basis, educates children and adults alike about HIV. He has had his diagnosis and knows how terrified he was, I just wish that I had been able to be with him and tell him, like mums do, that it would be all right, and it will.”

The truth about HIV

We now have the evidence to confidently say that people living with HIV and on effective treatment – like Andrew – can’t pass the virus on to anyone else.

The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on effective treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

If your HIV knowledge up-to-date? Find out more about the science behind this game-changing message.

Get your free HIV postal test. 

Andrew, Charity and Sadiq: We can’t pass it on

15 April 2019

Three models for It Starts With Me

Andrew, Charity and Sadiq have been living with HIV for some time now and would like everyone to know that people on effective HIV treatment can’t pass on the virus to others.

What you need to know about how treatment stops HIV being passed on

The aim of HIV treatment is to lower the level of HIV (viral load) in someone’s blood to a point where it is so low that it cannot be detected in the laboratory (called an ‘undetectable viral load’). We are using the term effective treatment to mean that someone is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load.

The likelihood of passing on HIV is directly linked to the amount of the virus in your blood. The lower the amount of virus in your blood, the lower the chance of it being passed on, and vice versa. Having an undetectable viral load means that you cannot pass on HIV.

Here’s more about Andrew, Charity and Sadiq.

Andrew

Andrew is an education and social care worker from Lincoln. Andrew was diagnosed back in 2014 when he and his partner (now husband) decided to get tested. This resulted in his test coming back positive.

Find out more about Andrew’s story here:

Charity

Charity is part of Catwalk 4 Power, an organisation that aims to empower women living with HIV. Charity was diagnosed with HIV the first time she tested back in 2003. She has gone on to share her story as a way of combating outdated perceptions of what it’s like to live with HIV.

Find out more about Charity’s story here:

Sadiq

Sadiq is a model and circus performer from London. He was diagnosed back in 2014 and recently took part in our National HIV Testing Week campaign.

Find out more about Sadiq’s story here:

See how effective HIV treatment stops HIV being passed on.

Simon Dunn’s five life hacks for staying in shape

15 October 2018

Simon Dunn

Photo: Thomas Knights 

Aussie Simon Dunn is one of the faces (and fingers) of our new National HIV Testing Week campaign, asking everyone to give HIV the finger and get tested, which launches this November.

Simon’s a former professional athlete and current model and personal trainer, so we asked him to share his top health tips for improving your physical, mental and – of course – sexual health.

1. Enjoy your food!

Unless you’re a professional athlete, you’re not going to want to stick to a strict diet all the time. But the simple rule for weight loss is to be in a calorie deficit, which means you burn off more calories than you take in. So, in short: enjoy that beer, you’ve earned it.

2. Get tested for STIs

Yes, more and more of us are hitting the gym for that all important leg day, but it’s important to keep a check on your sexual health too. In the same way I head to the dentist to make sure my teeth are healthy, I go to my local sexual health clinic every three months for a full screen. That’s because looking after your sexual health is as important as keeping your physical health in check.

I’ve had chlamydia before but, because I test regularly, it was found and treated really quickly.

3. Mix up your training

If you are hitting the gym, it’s important to keep things fun and vary what you do. That’s because going to the same gym every single day, doing the same workout and seeing the same old people isn’t going to keep you motivated for long. So mix it up!

One good option is to add an active recovery day to your routine and do something you enjoy whether it’s cycling, hiking or – like me – playing a team sport.

4. Self care

Instagram has been a great platform for me and I’m thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way because of social media. But it isn’t always easy and there are lots of people out there who will do anything to bring you down. I get loads of amazing comments on my photos, but I get the nasty ones too – calling me fat, calling me ugly, insulting my boyfriend.

Social media is a big part of my life, but I’ve recently implemented a no phones in the bedroom rule and it’s really helped.

5. Surround yourself with good people

This is a rule for life and fitness. I’m a personal trainer and part of my job is to bring it every session. My clients are paying for me time and I make sure I’m prepared to help them get the most out of their hour. If you’re looking for a trainer, find one who’s enthusiastic, who you gel with and who can push you beyond what you think you can do.

Get tested for HIV today!

If you’re not sure whether it’s time for your next HIV test then answer a couple of questions in our when to test quiz and find out. You can also find out where to test locally.

If you’d like to hear more from Simon, you can follow him on Instagram.

People on effective HIV treatment cannot pass it on

6 April 2018

Someone living with HIV, on treatment, with extremely low levels of the virus in their blood, cannot transmit the virus to someone else sexually, even if condoms are not used during sex.

How is this possible?

The likelihood of passing on HIV is directly linked to the amount of the virus in your blood. The lower the amount of virus in your blood, the lower the chance of it being passed on and vice versa.

When taken correctly, HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus in someone’s blood. When the virus is reduced to extremely low levels to the point where a laboratory test cannot pick it up, the virus cannot be passed on. This low level of virus in the blood is what is called an undetectable viral load. Different laboratories may have different cut-off points when classifying an undetectable viral load – however, most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies of HIV virus per millilitre.

It is important to note that a key goal of treatment is to ideally get everyone living with HIV to have an undetectable viral load. While an undetectable viral load does not mean there is no HIV present, it helps people with HIV to live long and healthy lives.

Is there any proof?

Scientists and doctors have been observing this over the last 20 years, however it is only in recent major studies that this has been officially proven through extensive research.

The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom. The PARTNER study used the definition of less than 200 copies/ml as being undetectable.

It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable.

This message has the backing of UNAIDS, Public Health England and hundreds of other leading public health experts and organisations worldwide.

OK, so what does this mean for me?

This message is so important because it helps us understand the progress that has been made on addressing HIV and to reduce stigma. Here are a few things you can do to help:

Spread the word

The more people that know about this the better the chance we have at beating HIV stigma. The great news is that in the UK, around 97% of people living with HIV who are diagnosed and are taking medication have an undetectable viral load – meaning that they can’t pass it on. This surpasses the UN global target of 90% of people on HIV medication having an undetectable viral load.

Get tested

It is important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support and live a long healthy life. In most cases HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:

Take your medication

If you have HIV, it’s extremely important to continue to take your medication as prescribed by your HIV specialist to maintain an undetectable viral load. Adherence is vital so that you reap the maximum health benefits for yourself and also prevent the chance of passing it on to anyone else.

If everyone knew the facts, we could bring an end to stigma around HIV, and stop HIV transmissions altogether.

Find out all the other ways to stop HIV.

The People Behind National HIV Testing Week

18 January 2018

National HIV Testing Week has now been running for six years, with more and more people getting involved every year. More people are visiting testing centres, ordering free HIV postal tests and spreading the message about this important cause.

The campaign wouldn’t be the success it is today without all the incredible people who have donated their time and resources, so we wanted to start the new year by celebrating them.

HRH Prince Harry

Prince Harry, Testing Week 2017

Prince Harry has been a long-time supporter of the campaign. He took an HIV test live on Facebook in 2016 and continued his support by becoming the face of National HIV Testing Week in 2017.

He generated a massive amount of awareness by visiting our pop-up shop and handing out free testing kits to members of the public, and has continued to be a prominent voice in the fight against HIV.

Celebrity Support

Celebrity support, Testing Week 2017

Over the years many celebrities have taken to social media to show their support, and in 2017 they flocked to our pop-up shop in Hackney to offer their support in person.

We were thrilled to be visited by influential names such as the wonderful MNEK, Adekunle Gold, Dorcas Fapson and Dr. Rupy Aujla, who all showed an enormous amount of passion and enthusiasm towards the campaign.

Influencer support

Influencers, Testing Week 2017Many influential online personalities help spread the key messages of National HIV Testing Week every year, and 2017 was no different.

Riyadh Khalaf, Joy Ogude, Kevin Shanti, Smade and Hannah Witton all acted as ambassadors for the campaign, helped to promote awareness, and encouraged countless other influencers to show their support as well.

Community Organisations

Community, Testing Week 2017Hundreds of community organisations right across the country get involved with National HIV Testing Week by opening out-of-hours testing facilities and spreading awareness far and wide. Seeing so many different organisations sharing their photos and messages of support is always a campaign highlight.

Community Support

Give HIV the finger, Testing Week 2017Our biggest thanks goes out to all the support we receive directly from the wider communities.

The campaign wouldn’t be able to run without the volunteer models who generously donate their time. These models act as ambassadors for our campaign and are seen everywhere right across the nation – from social media, to billboards, to double spreads in magazines.

HIV prevention really does start with all of us. Do your part by getting involved and helping us to spread the message today.

Find out if you need to test

Find out about types of HIV tests