Sexual Health Week - “People living with HIV can feel empowered to live a normal, happy and healthy life”
14-21 September marks sexual health week in the UK, supported nationwide by leading charity, Brook. The weeks theme this year is “Get your RSE in gear”, to coincide with the new Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) that will be coming to schools across the UK. According to data from Public Health England in 2019, there were 468,352 reported cases of sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the UK, with young people aged between 15-24 most likely to be affected. This demonstrates the need for young people to have access to high quality RSE, and this year we are encouraging schools to provide information on HIV in the classroom.
HIV is a (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system (our natural defence against infection and disease). In late-stage HIV infection the weakened immune system means the body is more vulnerable to life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and cancer. In 2018, 96,142 people of all ages were receiving care for HIV in the UK (around 70% men and 30% women). An estimated 8% of those living with HIV were unaware of their infection.
Natalie D’Anna Brown works within the sexual health service for Solent NHS Trust in North Hampshire. Natalie works within the community to provide education and resources help combat the stigma surrounded by HIV. She is also an advocate for the importance of early testing and how people can manage their wellbeing when living with HIV.
“There is unfortunately still a stigma attached to HIV which is a real shame as now we have the knowledge and treatments available so people can feel empowered to live a normal, happy and healthy life. Effective treatment means that people living with HIV can have a normal lifespan, improve long term health outcomes, and ensures that they cannot pass the virus on, but it’s really important to get diagnosed as early as possible in the infection, which is why early testing is key.”
From September 2020, it will be mandatory for all secondary schools in England to deliver relationships and sex education. Natalie said, “these new RSE lessons will serve as an important role to inform young people about the modern-day knowledge of HIV and how to protect themselves, it will also help to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV.”
A big part of Natalie’s work is in the community, supporting diverse local groups. Previously Solent NHS Trust hosted a Health and Wellbeing event in Aldershot, in the North of Hampshire. It included various local health organisations and wellbeing services, with members of the Sexual Health team providing HIV resources and offering a safe place for open conversations relating to HIV.
“Making sure we have strong connections in the community is really important so we can ensure the right messages are out there. We regularly visit churches and community centres, and we’re also active on online LGBT+ forums to promote wellbeing and testing in a safe and supportive way”, said Natalie.
“HIV can affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual behaviour. It is important that you protect yourself against STIs like HIV by using condoms when having sex and test yourself regularly.
Debbie Zimmerman, Head of Service adds “many people think that HIV only effects certain groups. This is really detrimental as it leads to negative judgements about people who are living with HIV. We need to make sure we continue to work hard and talk openly about HIV to help normalise the subject. Talking also provides opportunities to correct misconceptions and help others learn more about HIV.”
Did you know that you don’t have to see anyone to get a test and it’s free and confidential to request one? You can order a full STI test online, which includes a HIV & Syphilis test.
You can also get tested by visiting a Sexual Health Clinic and at many GP Surgeries. To find out more visit our website - https://www.letstalkaboutit.nhs.uk/