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Why aren’t people getting tested for HIV? And how we change that

Friday 25-11-2016 - 14:54

As National HIV Testing Week Draws to a close Emmanuel reflects on the reasons Black LGBT+ people may not get tested and what we need to be doing to encourage HIV testing looking forwards to World AIDS Day and beyond.

As World AIDS day approaches, we remain ever mindful of  the standard of sexual health within society, therapeutic advances in treatment, and discrepancies in sexual education across the UK.  

For both Black and LGBT+ people, rates of transmission remain at an alarmingly disproportionate standard. There are many factors at play: statistics show that on average both LGBT+ and Black and Minority Ethnicity people are more likely to live their lives in relative poverty (a key determinant in the quality of education received within our lives). Furthermore, lower school sexual health education remains highly changeable between the local regions: even in supposedly exemplar standards of sexual education: content is exceedingly heteronormative- alienating the experiences of LGBT+ students. Moreover, in the current economic climate of austerity, the number of poorer students turning towards sex work to ease financial strain in their studies is on the rise- this serves to further increase risk factors for those who are already disposed to contracting HIV.

Despite increased visibility, advancements in protective socio-political legislation and cultural acceptance towards those living with HIV, discrimination against HIV positive people remains pervasive in society. This is often further complicated by home and cultural attitudes towards sexuality and health/disease. A look at the media in the past year easily illustrates this: whether it’s in the sensationalism around “unknown superstar womaniser diagnosed with HIV” plastered over certain publications, front page stories describing preventative therapy for HIV  as a 'lifestyle’ drug for promiscuous individuals that would divert money away from vital surgeries, or the decades old ban on blood donation from LGBT+ people that is still enforced. It is clear we still have much further to go before the goal of acceptance is truly actualised.

Perhaps more alarmingly: an increasing number of studies assert that very psycho-socialization of living life as an LGBT+ induvial, complexed with an internalised hatred for our own state of being - is one of the largest contributory factors to high rates of transmission. In a society in which you are marginalised for that which you cannot change; it is perhaps already easy to understand why LGBT+ people have a high predisposition to mental health conditions, self-harm, suicide and substance abuse: it is in this unescapable state of self-hatred that the predisposition of LGBT+ individuals engaging in high risk sex becomes more apparent. This stands to only be further compounded by race, economic status and gender conformity.

Fortunately, we stand on the precipice of something exciting. In the implementation of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), preventative medication with 98 per cent effectiveness against transmission the possibility of reaching a society in which HIV is eradicated is exponentially more achievable. Though initially facing much resistance in the implementation of this drug in the UK- courts in the last week have finally decided the NHS has the power to fund it, though one can imagine in a country in which class divisions are entrenched by wider austerity, and a national health service being slowly undermined and sold on to private contractors, this goal may be further away than we anticipate.

Though the future remains uncertain: we within the wider student movement, with the privilege of access to education and information must take it upon ourselves to fill the holes society and the current government has created. World AIDS Day should primarily be a time of learning for unions across the country; we should be aiming to understand and destigmatise the lives of HIV+ and LGBT+ people and to take the time to check on our health and get tested. But simple awareness campaigns and increasing access to contraception is not enough. We must invest effort in the wider issues in society- to take it upon ourselves to increase sex education standards; and furthermore hold our government to a higher standard- campaigning against the vast inequality economic austerity is only further exacerbating.

This blog was written by Emmanuel Nnaemeka Agu, LGBT+ representative on NUS Black Students' Committee

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