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HIV rates in Solent to be tackled by free prevention pill and new training for local professionals

A new campaign has been launched by NHS Solent Sexual Health in partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity, to raise awareness locally about a free pill that protects against contracting HIV and is available via sexual health clinics. This drive coincides with National HIV Testing Week, starting today, when anyone who’s sexually active is encouraged to order a free HIV test kit to do at home or visit their local sexual health clinic.

There were 107 people newly diagnosed with HIV in Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton in 2019 and it’s hoped greater awareness of how to prevent HIV will help to lower the rates of people contracting HIV.

The pill known as PrEP is taken by HIV negative people and is highly effective in protecting against the virus entering the body. PrEP is an acronym for PRe-Exposure Prophylaxis.

The campaign's message ‘PrEP protects’ is being shared across the Solent area on social media channels, on buses and ferry routes, and via community radio. This goes alongside new training to ensure local professionals are properly equipped to answer questions about PrEP and recommend to those who could benefit. For example, those working in sexual health, homeless shelters and travel clinics. The training includes information about how PrEP works, who could benefit and monitoring procedures including testing for other sexually transmitted infections.

The HIV prevention pill has been available via the NHS for over a year and now this work hopes to increase awareness of its benefits to those who are at risk of HIV. 

The campaign is primarily targeting the groups most impacted by HIV  including gay and bisexual men, trans people and those from black African communities.

At our Sexual Health Service, PrEP is available for free through the main sexual health clinics, alongside confidential advice about how it works and if it might be suitable. Staff in Solent’s sexual health clinics have been trained to answer questions and give advice about PrEP, as well as other information about HIV prevention.

Debbie Zimmerman, Head of Service at Solent NHS Trust Sexual Health, said: "We’re serious about tackling HIV rates locally and that’s why we want as many people as possible to know about the benefits of PrEP for protecting against HIV. The campaign aims to get people in the area talking about PrEP and finding out more at our local sexual health clinics.

"We know that many people don’t know how much progress has been made in preventing HIV and have never even heard of PrEP. We want to change that with our ‘PrEP protects’ campaign."

Ian Green, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "PrEP is a game changer for HIV prevention and vital as we now work to end new HIV cases by the end of the decade. We applaud Solent NHS Trust for taking a proactive approach when it comes to utilising PrEP and its push to raise awareness locally.

"HIV has changed a huge amount since the 1980s and you can now live a long healthy life with the virus. While the effective treatment that HIV positive people take means we can say with absolute confidence that the virus can’t be passed on to partners, the more we can engage people in that progress, the more we’ll tackle the stigma and misinformation still surrounding HIV."

More information about PrEP and how to access it Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and Isle of Wight, is available via Solent NHS Trust Sexual Health on 0300 300 2016 or via letstalkaboutit.nhs.uk/prepprotects

Free HIV testing kits are also available via letstalkaboutit.nhs.uk, where you can also test for other Sexually Transmitted Infections, or via startswithme.org.uk.

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