Public health ministers have launched a scheme offering HIV home-sample kits to high-risk groups, as latest official figures show 18,000 people are unaware they have HIV.
From today until 1 January next year, people at higher risk of HIV can order the home-sampling test kit for free online, after which ‘participating local authorities in England will continue to provide the service’, Public Health England (PHE) said.
The launch comes as new figures show an estimated 103,700 people in the UK were living with HIV in 2014 – with around 17% of these (18,100) unaware of their status and therefore at risk of unknowingly passing on the virus.
They also show transmission rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) are high, with 3,360 MSM newly diagnosed in 2014. And, overall, 40% of people were diagnosed at a late stage of infection.
PHE stressed that testing not only helps individuals through earlier and thereby more effective treatment, but also has wider public health benefits as it reduces the risk of them passing it on.
Public health minister Jane Ellison said: ‘I want today’s launch of the first National HIV Home Sampling service to encourage people at risk to find out their HIV status, using our free kits, so they can get better care for themselves and partners.’
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Local Government Association community wellbeing spokesperson, said: ‘HIV testing is key to prevention. Evidence shows that earlier diagnosis can not only benefit personal health, but has massive public health benefits too, while saving significant sums of money for the NHS and local services.
’Councils now have responsibility for public health and commissioning sexual health services. HIV testing and outreach services are part of this, whether in GP practices, sexual health clinics or in community settings.’
The move comes as sexual health experts are warning that ongoing funding cuts to local authority public health budgets are putting sexual health testing services in jeopardy, risking an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and rising costs to the health service.
Photo credit: Public Health Information Library