Europe to unite for the first European HIV testing week to increase awareness of the benefits of HIV testing
Friday 22 November 2013, Copenhagen – Today HIV in Europe announces the launch of the European HIV testing week. It is the first time that Europe has united for a testing week and more than 400 organisations and institutions across Europe have signed up to host activities that will increase awareness of the benefits of HIV testing. The theme is ‘Talk HIV. Test HIV.’, and the goal is to reduce late HIV diagnosis.
The week has been coordinated by HIV in Europe*, and Jens Lundgren, Co-chair of HIV in Europe and Professor at Rigshopitalet, Denmark and Director of Copenhagen HIV Programme explained: “Talk HIV. Test HIV. will encourage dialogue in order to inspire people and populations at higher risk to ask for an HIV test and ensure more HIV tests are offered. Over the past 30 years there have been amazing advances in HIV treatments, which have transformed a disease that used to be a death sentence into a manageable medical condition. Now the majority of people living with HIV can live normal lives if diagnosed and treated early.”
European HIV testing week is being supported by 19 international organisations and institutions, including the European Commission and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “People have the right to know their HIV status. It is essential that new approaches are generated to enable and empower people to access HIV testing without fear of stigma, discrimination or criminalization,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Community driven initiatives such as the European HIV Testing Week are an important contribution to ensuring that more people know their status and can access lifesaving treatment. It is an important contribution to Treatment 2015, UNAIDS’ initiative to rapidly expand access to treatment.”
The unacceptable reality is that 30-50% of the 2.3 million people living with HIV in Europe are unaware that they are HIV positive; and 50% of those who are positive are diagnosed late, delaying access to treatment. This means that many people are not being tested prior to symptoms emerging. This could be because there are barriers to requesting an HIV test, barriers to offering HIV tests or barriers to the implementation of HIV testing guidelines and procedures. This is despite the benefits of early HIV diagnosis being well-documented.
When people are diagnosed late with HIV, they are more likely to suffer with health complications and more likely to pass on HIV to others, as they will not have had access to antiretroviral treatment. In contrast, the majority of those who are diagnosed early (soon after infection) and are prescribed antiretroviral treatment in a timely manner can live healthy lives. The likelihood of them passing on HIV to others is also significantly reduced. The benefits of regular HIV testing amongst populations at higher risk are widespread – it leads to early diagnosis and access to treatment, which in turn has a positive impact on the individual’s prognosis, reduces onward transmission and costs for society.
Research has shown that most people will accept an HIV test when offered. So, beyond emboldening individuals to ask for a test, the testing week aims to inspire healthcare professionals to offer HIV tests when deemed appropriate and necessary.
Kevin Fenton, director of Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, and observer to the HIV in Europe Steering Committee said: “HIV tests should be offered in a wider range of settings. We would like to see it become common practice for all people presenting with symptoms and diseases that have been proved potential indicators of HIV infection, to be routinely offered an HIV test.”
Brian C West, Chair, Board of Directors, European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) and member of the European HIV testing week working group, said: “The stigma still associated with HIV prevents people asking for a test, so we need to help reduce that stigma by asking the HIV community, policy makers, healthcare professionals and public institutions to all participate in the testing week activities and promote regular testing on an ongoing basis. By more openly talking about the benefits of HIV testing with partners, friends, family and healthcare professionals, we hope to eradicate the unnecessary stigma and normalise HIV testing, so more people are diagnosed and treated early and can live long, healthy lives.”
The types of activities taking place across Europe for the testing week are varied, and range from mobile testing units and extended opening hours of testing sites in many countries including Spain, Ireland, Azerbaijan, The Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine, Norway, and Republic of Macedonia, to speed dating and clinical seminars in Croatia; training of medical personnel in Turkey, Belgium, Denmark and Austria; TV spots and rapid tests in Greece; seminars and policy meetings in England, Slovenia, Lithuania, Russia and Scotland; focus groups and HIV testing for drug users and sex workers in Tajikistan; youth awareness campaign in Armenia; HIV testing of celebrities in Portugal and Latvia; a concert in Italy, offering testing in gay clubs and male saunas in Bulgaria and Serbia, and many more...
To find out more about the European HIV testing week and to access a range of materials and ideas for holding testing and educational events visit www.hivtestingweek.eu.
*About HIV in Europe
HIV in Europe is a pan-European initiative initiated in Brussels in 2007. The initiative provides a European platform for exchange and activities to improve early diagnosis and earlier care of HIV across Europe. The initiative is directed by an independent group of experts with representation from civil society, policy makers, health professionals and European public health institutions.
HIV in Europe is not an organisation, but an initiative formed to inform processes, share knowledge and improve the evidence base around important issues of earlier testing and care. It is unique in its collaboration between stakeholders at a clinical, advocacy and public health level.