Tackling HIV in Our Communities

Publish Date: 01/02/2013

A new report in The Lancet infectious diseases has raised issues surrounding some of the challenges associated with HIV testing for gay and bisexual men. But there are also opportunities for healthcare providers, community groups and men themselves to tackle HIV.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit, in Cambridge, have found ‘little difference’ when comparing the spread of HIV over the last decade with ‘no evidence that there was any decline in the number of new infections’.  

However the number of gay or bisexual men being tested in clinics went from 16,000 a year in 2001 to 59,000 a year in 2010, the time from infection to diagnosis fell from four years to just over three and the numbers taking antiretroviral therapy went from 69% to 80%.

The Health Protection Agency state that more gay and bisexual men are testing positive for HIV than ever before and although more men may be taking advantage of HIV testing services, there are some real challenges in tackling HIV in our communities, particularly when many services working towards improving sexual health are under resourced and those community groups working with gay and bisexual men face funding cuts.

Rob Cookson,Director for The Lesbian  & Gay Foundation comments:

It is important to acknowledge the fact that more gay and bisexual men are getting tested for HIV than ever before. Its really important that gay and bisexual men are encouraged and have the necessary support  to access testing services and know their HIV Status.

As well as tackling HIV, the role that other sexually transmitted infections and wider health inequalities experienced by gay and bisexual men also need to be tackled.   HIV will continue to thrive wherever there is a lack of tailored information, support or no opportunity for gay and bisexual men to discuss their sexual health needs

Using a programmatic approach and providing a range of interventions to address gay and bisexual men’s health needs, including increased access to community based testing, free condom and lube schemes, safer sex information, counselling and group support play an important part in helping to reducing HIV infection rates.

HIV testing does need to become more normalised. The evidence shows that more gay and bisexual men are accessing testing services and like to do this in a wide variety of settings, including community based testing. The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, through our partnership with Manchester Centre for Sexual Health,  provide a safe and trusted place where gay and bisexual men can not only get tested but also talk about the issues that they are affected by.

More solutions lie in increased partnership working and also in empowering gay and bisexual men themselves to play a role in promoting safer sex messages and encouraging sexual health screening and HIV testing.

It is also important to acknowledge that GP’s have a role to play in not only understanding the needs of their gay and bisexual patients but actually recognising they exist. Gay and bisexual men should not be exclusively defined by their sexual health needs;all the issues  that contribute to the health inequalities faced by gay and bisexual men need to be addressed.  As well as tackling HIV and other STIs, support is also required regarding other health inequalities, such as substance misuse and mental health & wellbeing.

In order to reduce HIV infection rates, we need to break down the barriers which exist; barriers like stigma and homophobia, and access to services and tailored information.

You can read more on this story here.

To find out more about HIV testing go to : www.lgf.org.uk/testing