GHP January 2016

ghp January 2016 | 25 health & social care Free HIV Home Sampling Launched to Increase HIV Testing Initiative HIV infection is still a growing problem within certain communities and the fact is levels of HIV testing among high risk people remain too low. New figures released by Public Health England in November show that an estimated 103,700 people in the UK were living with HIV in 2014, compared with 100,000 in 2013. Worryingly, around 17% (18,100) of people are unaware that they have HIV and at risk of unknowingly passing on the virus to others. We do know that HIV infection remains largely concentrated among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), and black Afri- can men and women; this knowledge helps us target our efforts for prevention and testing. The national guidelines currently recommend, if hav- ing unprotected sex with new or casual partners, that MSM have an HIV test every three months and Black African men and women get tested regularly. Among these two groups, 6,500 MSM remain unaware of their HIV infection, as do 3,900 men and women from black African communities. HIV testing is key to prevention. Regular testing can also crucially help to improve rates of early diagnosis, which not only has major individual and public health benefits but ultimately reduces the burden on the health service. Early diagnosis shrinks the cost of care as prompt treatment prevents further infections and reduces the need for treatment in hospital. In the UK, the annual cost of late treatment is estimated to be 22% higher than the cost of treatment at an early stage. Improved treatment for HIV means those diagnosed early can have a life expectancy almost matching that of people who are HIV free. Yet in order to realise the full benefits of testing for HIV, we need to improve access outside of traditional clinics, reaching out to those who may not usually engage with their local sexual health service. PHE has piloted an innovative HIV home-sampling service for people at high risk of acquiring HIV. The kit allows an individual to take a finger prick blood sample at home and send it to a centralised laboratory for testing. This enables large numbers of people from the most at risk populations to test quickly and easily, reaching significant proportions of people who had never tested before. A national HIV home-sampling service co-commis- sioned by PHE and 89 participating local authorities is now up and running. PHE is currently funding the distribution of home-sampling kits for those most at risk of acquiring HIV infection, and these can be requested online at The service offers an alternative to traditional testing offered by GPs and sexual health clinics, boosting the numbers of high risk people getting tested and supporting the fantastic work already being done at a local level to target at-risk groups. It’s great to see that in the first 11 days of operation 7,500 people have already requested the sampling kit, and more than 200 tests have been carried out. The HIV home-sampling service forms part of a com- prehensive HIV prevention programme that includes social marketing campaigns and working with local partners. Until HIV is a thing of the past, we must continue to tackle rising HIV infections and increase early diagnosis to help more people lead long and healthy lives. By Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.