People on effective HIV treatment cannot pass it on

6 April 2018

It Starts With Me - Chris

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 all together.

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

’My first HIV test was live on camera for MTV Shuga – it was easy and fast, and not scary at all!’

8 November 2017

Dorcas F

Actress Dorcas Shola-Fapson, who starred as lead character Sophie in season three and four of the award winning TV series MTV Shuga, is lending her support to National HIV Testing Week by encouraging people to get tested .

MTV Shuga looks at the lives of young people who find themselves unexpectedly dealing with various issues with HIV being a main one. The show, which is very popular amongst many young people worldwide, has helped to improve awareness of HIV, bust myths and get people testing for the virus.

‘In places like Nigeria, where MTV Shuga’s season three and four were set and filmed, HIV can often be swept under the rug. People still wrongly think that you can’t touch or hug people with HIV and that it’s a death sentence, but this is not true. Today HIV is a treatable condition that you can live well with – but you need to test, know you have it and get treatment.

‘As a public figure who has had an active role in one of the leading TV programmes on HIV I’m delighted and feel it’s important to be able to encourage people to join in with National HIV Testing Week.’

National HIV Testing Week encourages people, including black Africans, to test for HIV and know their status. Black Africans are disproportionately affected by HIV, with more than half diagnosed late, putting their health in danger.

‘I didn’t know much about HIV before my involvement with MTV Shuga,’ added Dorcas, who was raised in north London and auditioned for her role while in New York.

‘This is because we don’t always have the education and awareness about what HIV is really like in 2017. But the show really opened my eyes. Many people think they have a good understanding of HIV, but more needs to be done.’

As one of the faces of the National HIV Testing Week campaign, Dorcas is calling for people to get tested during the week, and not put it off.

‘My first ever HIV test was live on camera as part of the show. I was a little nervous because I thought they were going to have to take a lot of blood, but in fact it was just a little finger prick – really easy, simple and fast. It’s actually wasn’t scary at all.

‘National HIV Testing Week is a great way to remind people of the importance of testing. You can sometimes forget or put it to one side, but it’s vital. Loads of people will be testing during the week, so you are not alone. Together we can make a change by testing.’

MTV Shuga has won many awards including African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2015. Now in its fifth season, it’s reached over 550 million people. Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o was the star of the first season before her major breakthrough in Hollywood.

MTV Shuga is all about breaking down the stigma around HIV. I think people can look at my character Sophie and learn from her. She made mistakes that many young people make, and she provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the things they might be doing.

‘The show definitely provokes conversation. A lot of my friends live here in London and I think they tend to view HIV as something that only happens in Africa or within the gay community.

‘However, because the show focuses on normal people from different walks of life people can relate to the characters and understand how HIV can affect anyone, anywhere.’

The Faces Of Our Campaign

2 October 2017

Since the beginning of the It Starts With Me campaign, it’s been the passion of individuals that has been the driving force behind the project’s success. The fight against HIV relies on so many volunteers, and the campaign’s most recent video showcases this by featuring many of the real people who are making a difference in their own way.

Here’s a closer look at the people who make up the video and how each of them have played an integral role in the progress we’ve seen over the past few years.

Celebrity Support

Ranj

Doctor and television personality Ranj Singh has been a long-term supporter of the campaign, discussing National HIV Testing Week on national television as well as shouting about his support for the campaign on social media. Ranj represents the many celebrities that have made a difference in offering their support, including the likes of Stephen Fry, Prince Harry, Graham Norton and Dr Christian Jessen.

Ambassador Support

Horcelie

Horcelie Sinda – Miss Congo UK – is one of the many diverse voices that make up the voiceover for the video. As an ambassador for the campaign, she represents all the people speaking directly to their communities about the issues that matter most to them, and as an HIV activist herself, Horcelie is testament to the difference this can make.

YouTube Supporters

Joy

YouTubers Joy Ogude, Dan & Jon, Shoshana & Meredith, Jamie Raines, and Roly all make appearances and are just some of the many YouTubers who have been long-term supporters of the campaign. Contributing to over 3,000,000 views of the campaign videos, they’ve been an enormous  part of drawing attention to the campaign since its inception.

Drag Queen Support

Poppy

Drag queen Poppy Seed is seen putting on her makeup in the video. She represents the tireless support we’ve received from the drag communities over the past few years. The drag communities have rallied together to show their support for National HIV Testing Week every single year; they’ve graced the covers of magazines in the name of HIV prevention, and been exceptionally open and honest in sharing the personal stories that matter most to them.

Community Support

Joe

The video also features members of the wider communities who make a difference by taking action in their own lives and encouraging their communities to do the same. Prem, Laura, Joe, Charlotte, Zoheb, Otto and Shaaba all make up the remaining voices and faces in the video, as well as appearances and voiceovers from members of Terrence Higgins Trust staff and the It Starts With Me team.

HIV prevention really does start with all of us. We’ve really started something, and with your help we can stop HIV for good.

We started something

19 July 2017

We started something

Takudzwa Mukiwa, Health Improvement Specialist at Terrence Higgins Trust, reveals some of the trends in HIV testing and treatment.

Together we are stopping HIV. We’re testing more, starting HIV treatment sooner, using condoms – and taking PrEP and HIV rates are starting to fall. Last year there was a 17% drop in new diagnoses amongst gay and bisexual men across England.

Here is what’s making a difference.

1. We’re testing more

  • 300,000 more HIV tests were done in 2015 than 2012.
  • 87% of people who have HIV know they have it.

Testing regularly is the best thing you can do for your health. If you have HIV, then the sooner you know the better because early treatment means that HIV won’t damage your health or shorten your life.

While we are testing more, about 13% of people living with HIV in the UK are not aware they have it.

Most people get HIV from someone who doesn’t realise they have it. If more people test and get the medication they need we could dramatically cut the numbers who get HIV in the future.

Testing is free, fast, confidential and simple. You can even do it at home.

Find out if you need to test.
Find a testing option that might be suitable for you.

2. We’re starting HIV treatment sooner

  • More people are getting HIV treatment when they need it.
  • 96% of people with diagnosed HIV were on treatment in 2015.
  • 94% of people living with HIV in the UK who are on treatment have an undetectable viral load.

The sooner someone with HIV starts treatment, the better it is for their health. Treatment can also reduce the amount of HIV in the body to levels at which HIV cannot be passed on.

3. We’re using condoms and PrEP

Most new infections come from unprotected sex with someone who doesn’t know they have HIV – so we all need to look after ourselves.

Condoms are the best barrier against HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies.

Find the best condom for you.

For some of us who are more exposed to HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can provide extra protection against HIV. PrEP is when someone who doesn’t have HIV takes medication to protect themselves from getting it. PrEP does not protect against other STIs or unplanned pregnancy.

For up-to-date information on PrEP, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust website.

We can stop HIV, but it takes each of us to make it happen.

‘I thought that HIV was a thing of the past. I thought that it didn’t happen to young people.’

18 April 2017

George

George was diagnosed with HIV at a young age and although he found it difficult at first, he went on to become an incredible HIV activist, successful blogger and talented performer. Speaking now about his experience, George shares his story and talks about how he came to terms with living with HIV.

‘I was diagnosed when I was still at college. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I went into self-destruction mode. I thought that HIV was still a thing of the past, something that happened in the eighties. I thought that it didn’t happen to young people.’

George put off going on medication until he learned about how he could become undetectable and what that would mean for his health and his well-being.

‘I had no idea what undetectable meant before I was diagnosed; I learned about it for the first time when I started medication. It can be a difficult thing to explain, a lot of people get confused about how I still have HIV even though it is undetectable in my body.’

Being undetectable is where HIV medication causes the virus in a person’s body to be suppressed to levels where it can no longer be detected. This means the person can continue to live a healthy life and not worry about passing the virus on to others.

‘It’s really reassuring to know I’m undetectable. HIV was an unwanted gift but being undetectable means I’m not infectious and I can’t transmit HIV. It means my immune system is healthy, it means I am living well, and it means I’m not putting anyone else at risk.’

George now lives a healthy and happy life and is dedicated to educating others. He got involved with the Youth Stop AIDS speaker tour and toured the country with other activists, speaking to students and parliament about his experience and how HIV is still an issue affecting many people today.

Soon afterwards, he started writing a blog where he writes about his experiences of living with HIV in the hope that it will help educate others. He continues working with many HIV and sexual health organisations and jumped at the chance of becoming an ambassador for It Starts With Me.

‘The It Starts With Me campaign is so important because of the conversations that it creates. Since I’ve been involved people have asked me questions about all sorts of things related to HIV. I’m proud to be someone that they can reach out to in order to seek advice and knowledge. Education is the key to ending the negative stigma which still surrounds HIV today. We all need to know the facts in order to get rid of the myths.’

What you can do:

Find out when you should test for HIV
Find a testing option suitable for you
Find the best condom for you
Order a free postal test

Ade, a broadcaster helping the conversation on HIV testing

5 April 2017

AdeFor Ade, HIV is a very important subject that needs more awareness and he aims to use his work as a radio and TV broadcaster to help get more people tested for HIV.

‘One of the greatest things about what I do as a broadcaster is that I can reach out and inspire other people.

‘I had my first ever HIV test on air while hosting a TV show and it was easy and quick. I was initially nervous but managed to do it. The kind or relief and empowerment you get from whatever the result is, nothing beats that. ‘

Ade, who is also a family man and avid sports enthusiast, received a lot of messages via social media following his on-air HIV test. The messages were a mixture of those that were supportive, some questioning his motivation for taking the test on air and others asking why he felt he needed to test in the first place. Though the test broadcast in 2014, Ade still has people talking to him about it to this day which has made him keen to continue discussing the importance of HIV testing.

‘Some people are scared of taking the test simply because they are worried about having a positive result. Unfortunately we still have a lot of stigma around HIV with some people still seeing it as a death sentence. This is no longer true with the advancement of treatment.

‘Some of my friends have raised an eyebrow to my involvement thinking perhaps there is a bit more to me getting involved than just wanting to help spread the word. It’s intriguing to see their facial expressions when I bang on about the importance of getting tested.

‘You don’t need to have HIV yourself to talk about it. We can all benefit from talking about it more and encouraging each other to get tested.’

What you can do:

Find out when you should test for HIV
Find a testing option suitable for you
Find the best condom for you
Order a free postal test

‘I’m not a fighter, I’m a normal guy who would like to see the end of HIV’

1 March 2017

JoanJoan is a proud advocate and supporter of the It Starts With Me campaign, and as a passionate filmmaker he’s using his voice and his work to help make a difference in the way people think about protecting themselves from HIV.

‘See the world, change the world. We have to lead the change instead of just waiting for it to happen. We can write a new page in LGBT history if we play safe, if we know our status, and we are responsible. It has to start with us.’

Originally living in Spain, Joan now leads a happy and successful life in Manchester, and as no stranger to the LGBT+ scene he urges his peers on the importance of personal responsibility. ‘It is in our hands. Nobody can force us to be safe and use protection. It’s us that have the power to bring a stop to HIV.’

‘People think it’s negative to talk about getting tested, but I think it’s great. In the same way people take care to talk about their bodies and their food – why can’t we speak about our status?’

There may still be a negative stigma associated with HIV, but Joan believes this is outdated and is a proud and outspoken ambassador for the campaign.

‘My family and friends weren’t surprised that I took part in this campaign. They know I like to live a healthy lifestyle, and getting tested is part of that. It’s something I encourage everyone to do.’

‘I think people have forgotten how bad HIV was. We don’t like to think about the past, we’re too focussed on the present. That’s why I think the It Starts With Me campaign is so important. We still need that reminder so that we can create a better future.’

The idea of striving for a better future is something that runs passionately through everything Joan does. He has a deep respect for LGBT+ history and is determined to use his influence to improve the lives of his peers.

‘My new project is about focussing on the past and the present to look for a better future. Talking to LGBT+ people has made me realise how lucky we are to be able to hold hands in the street, go out to gay clubs, and have good safe sex.’

What you can do:

Find out when you should test for HIV

Find a testing option suitable for you

Find the best condom for you

Order a free postal test

Why I’m taking part: Yvette

3 February 2017

Yvette
‘I feel confident about testing and I go to the sexual health clinic regularly, every three months or so.’

Yvette started supporting the It Starts With Me campaign a few years ago after seeing some of the campaign adverts. She was particularly inspired by the campaign’s use of real people and their stories to address HIV. Yvette is now one of the people featuring in the campaign and here she speaks about why it matters so much to her:

‘I made the decision get involved in this campaign because I am from Rwanda where a lot of people are living with HIV, and I also know people here in the UK who are affected by it.

‘Unfortunately HIV is always linked to stigma, it has always been a taboo. If you talk about HIV around some people they think you are sleeping around. However, it shouldn’t have this stigma – I feel confident about testing and I go to the sexual health clinic regularly, every three months or so.

‘I work for the TV channel VoxAfrica and so when I heard about the campaign, I approached Terrence Higgins Trust to see if we could help promote it to our viewers and I’ve been involved ever since. I love the posts by regular people all over the UK talking about testing. Sometimes, you see people you know – last year my colleague had her picture taken wearing the It Starts With Me T-shirt. The real people and real voices are my favourite part of the campaign as it helps people realise we all have a role to play.’

What you can do:

Find out when you should test for HIV

Find a testing option suitable for you

Find the best condom for you

Order a free postal test

Jacob on being the first transgender man for our campaign

25 January 2017

Jacob

‘There is a lot of fear, stigma and misinformation about HIV which adds up to people being complacent.’

HIV can affect absolutely anyone, and Jacob is a proud advocate of sharing that message. As the first transgender man to be the face of the It Starts With Me campaign, he’s leading the way for more mainstream LGBT+ representation and speaking out to his community about the issues that matter most to him.

‘I feel that as an LGBTQ person, HIV/AIDS is a big part of the story of my ancestry and living history, and I feel we can honour that history today by working towards a world free of new transmissions.’

Jacob first appeared in the campaign in 2016 and had an enormous impact on the LGBT+ community, with many other transgender influencers coming forward on social media to support Jacob and his story, and share their own. Jacob understands the impact equal representation can have, and understands in particular that it can be difficult for transgender people to seek help regarding their sexual health.

‘The trans community in particular are prone to not getting sexual health checks enough. It can be a challenging experience for lots of reasons. You worry about whether the professional you are seeing will treat you with respect, whether they will know enough about your anatomy to get it right, or whether you will have to do a lot of explaining. It can be really difficult.’

Having LGBT+ role models like Jacob is crucial for this reason, and it is our hope that we can make our efforts more inclusive of everyone by continuing to diversify the campaign. We want everyone to be able to see themselves in the campaign to help them understand that HIV really can affect anyone.

‘I think that a lot of people still have an “it won’t happen to me” attitude to HIV. I know many people who are worried about their status but are too afraid to get checked, they shrug it off and continue as normal. There is a lot of fear, stigma and misinformation about HIV which adds up to people being complacent.’

Jacob has the full support of his friends, family and colleagues, and wants to continue to be involved with the campaign and set a positive example for everyone – particularly other transgender individuals.

‘If you are trans, and you are putting off an HIV test, I would urge you to seek out a friendly clinic. Remember an HIV test doesn’t involve a physical examination and knowing your status is really positive because it allows you to lead a long and healthy life through treatment. I would recommend Clinic T in Brighton or Clinic Q in London for any trans person who is worried about their sexual health and needs a friendly and open service.’

What you can do:

Find out when you should test for HIV

Find a testing option suitable for you

Find the best condom for you

Order a free postal test