European HIV-Hepatitis Testing Week

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In Joel’s next editorial he speaks about his lived experience & the importance of HIV Hepatitis European National Testing Week. In the UK I feel this makes the work happening within the Jewish community around Gender, Sexuality & Sexual Health even more important.

The more preventative work thàt organisations such as Jewish Action and Training in Sexual Health (formally Jewish AIDS Trust) and Keshet UK can do within the community. The happier, healthier and safer transition young people can make into adulthood.

Mr HotSaltBeef


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This year, European HIV-Hepatitis Testing Week will take place from 20-27 November 2015. Why is it important to the LGBT community? We are 30 years into the HIV epidemic and the rates of HIV go up every day in the community of men who have sex with men. Public Health England reports that 85,489 people were seen for HIV care by the end of 2014, the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) newly diagnosed with HIV continued to rise from 2,860 men in 2010 to 3,360 men. HIV and Hepatitis should not just be remembered for just a week during Testing Week or a day on Worlds AIDS Day. If we want to maintain a healthy sex life, Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs) and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) should be something we consider before, during and after we decide to have sex with someone.

Pre exposure Provilaxis (PreP), the pill soon we hope will become available to all, is the pill that will prevent those having riskier sex from getting HIV, and Post Exposure Provilaxis (PEP), the morning after pill following putting yourself at risk of HIV, if taken within 72 hours of exposure is proven to prevent you getting HIV and has been available for some time now. However the stigma around people getting tested and living with HIV is still very much alive. We need everyone to test early, get treated and by doing so we will prevent onward transmission of HIV.

So why is National Testing Week important to me? So friends, family and colleagues here I go. This year I celebrate going into my 12th year of living well with HIV. If you had asked me 12 years ago if I thought I would be here today, I would have said “No, I have 5 years so let me enjoy it!” I had seen many lovers and friends die from HIV related illnesses who got access to the new medication in the mid 1990’s too late. So for some of those years I lived like there would be no tomorrow. When it got to 7 years of me living with HIV and I was still fit and well, I knew I would more likely die of old age then HIV. I do worry sometimes about the long-term effects of being on treatment, but I accept it with good karma as that is why I am still here today.

HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. It has been proven that when living with HIV in our western developed world longevity may actually increase by 10% due to being able to access the best of HIV care.

So the earlier you get tested the better the outcome. The longer you take in getting tested with the possibility of HIV being in your body, the more complicated the outcome for you both physically and psychologically.

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There is an ageing population of those that survived the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s that often get overlooked facing issues around poverty, isolation and lack of community. So in telling my story, I do not want to forget them as they are all our heroes and heroines. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do an intergenerational project, so we can learn lessons from each other?

Now I move on to a more difficult topic. This time last year I got diagnosed with Hepatitis C. I am now cured following 6 months of harsh treatment, a bit like chemotherapy, which for me came with many side effects and then 6 months off treatment. The treatment is not pleasant but is better than walking around with a horrible virus in your body. Due to the stigma Hepatitis C carries, I did this in silence with the support of my loving family and friends around me. Not everyone is as lucky as me. The divine upstairs has given me a second opportunity to get it right and I am truly grateful. That is why if by breaking my silence I can prevent ten people getting Hepatitis C, then my job here is done.

Hepatitis C is a new pandemic mainly affecting the Men who have Sex with Men and the Transgender community. The UK Government and NICE seem to not want to talk about it as a Public Health Issue, due to delays of the new treatment coming through. I understand totally after being through the treatment last year, the fear from those living with Hepatitis C, attached to being on the old school interferon/ ribavirin, as it is horrid and toxic. It is estimated that 60,000 people are infected with Hepatitis C in the UK, almost double those newly infected with HIV, these are only the known cases, and only 5% of these are getting treated. When people think of Hepatitis C they mainly think of intravenous drug users. The truth is that there are many ways of transmitting the virus through sex: blood to blood contact through trauma, semen, sharing toys or lubricant or condoms in group sex. HIV lives outside the body for 27 seconds, some studies have demonstrated that Hepatitis C can live outside the body for up to three months.

International research suggests that Transgender Male to Female Women are 49 times more likely to have HIV compared to the general population. In 2015, we need to be thinking why might this be the case? Is this to do with socio-economic factors or about unequal access to services due to gender reassignment? In terms of Female to Male there is a lack of data in this area. It is not until recently that the NHS included Transgender as a Gender Identity within the monitoring information they take from patients. Within the Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s community they need better access to information, smear testing and clinics that understand their sexual health needs.

We need better access to better Hepatitis treatment and PreP, we need the LGBT, HIV and the wider community to come out and support the fight for this, as they did with HIV. Unlike HIV in the 1980’s, this pandemic could be stopped, there is a cure albeit a highly expensive one. As with any new medication it is given to those who may have been living with Hepatitis C for a long time and who may be facing liver cirrhosis or failure to provide better quality of life. Some of whom have been waiting a long time for better treatment.

Our peers living with HIV or Hepatitis A, B or C need our strength to support their battle, with a bit of love and compassion from the community.

My message to you this National Testing Week is getting tested, diagnosed earlier, treated quicker, and then we can prevent onward transmission sooner.

Thank-you!

Joel

CliniQ http://cliniq.org.uk
CliniQ is a holistic sexual health and well-being service for all trans people, partners and friends
GMFA www.gmfa.org.uk
London-based gay men’s health charity
European HIV Hepatitis Testing Week www.testingweek.eu
HIV and AIDS at National AIDS Manual (NAM) www.aidsmap.com
Living with HIV & Hepatitis C http://i-base.info/guides/hepc
Post Exposure Provilaxis (PEP) www.tht.org.uk/~/media/
Pre exposure Provilaxis (PreP) www.iwantprepnow.co.uk

 

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About Author

Joel is a qualified counsellor and psycho-therapeutic supervisor working with both youth and adult clients. He has worked in the LGBT community for over 14 years working in the fields of health, social care and youth work. This has included working in HIV prevention and supporting adults and young people who are living with HIV. Since 1999, Joel has delivered training and workshops in the voluntary and statutory sectors around the themes of sexuality, homophobia and sexual health.

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