Thursday 05-11-2015 - 16:38
This month is home to one of the most important campaigning weeks of the year: from the 21 - 28 November it will be HIV Testing Week (NHTW).
I am encouraging as many students’ unions and LGBT societies to hold events throughout the week so activists can get involved and ensure that we get as many people as possible tested.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, with the Department of Health and others, want to dedicate the week before World AIDS Day to HIV testing. The week aims to help people understand where and how to get a HIV test, and encourage everyone to go get tested. The main reason for this is that many people in the UK are living with HIV and don’t know – but too often going to a GUM clinic can be intimidating and scary. This campaign can be used to help address those anxieties and get as many people as possible tested.
In 2011 around 96,000 people were living with HIV in the UK. It is estimated that 25% of these are unaware of their status. Some 400-600 people living with HIV die in the UK each year, according to the National AIDS Trust (NAT). The NAT believe that in 2011 there were 6,280 new diagnoses in the UK; 3,010 (48%) were men who have sex with men, with roughly the same number contracting the virus via heterosexual sex. About 40,000 men who have sex with men are currently living with HIV in the UK.
Yet despite these sobering statistics, the government’s obsession with austerity threatens to make the situation worse. We’ve seen cuts to sexual health clinics on and off campus and sexual health charities struggling to survive with little or no support from our government. The obsession with austerity means it is harder and harder for the welfare state and our NHS to provide support to those living with HIV. Cuts in England will also affect the budgets available in the nations for sexual health services.
Although HIV testing week isn’t solely an LGBT issue, the LGBT community are disproportionality affected by these cuts to sexual health services and support.
During National HIV Testing Week and in the weeks leading up to it, I would like students’ unions to hold events to let people know about HIV testing week, get people involved and energised, and to work to ensure that we can get as many students tested as possible. It’s a really exciting campaign and you can work on this in a range of ways.
If you would like to order a free campaign pack for your students’ union to highlight HIV testing week, and or to ensure that HIV testing week remains visible in your students’ union- you can order posters, stickers and myth busting cards here: http://www.hivpreventionengland.org.uk/Resources
This campaign is being run by Public Health England, so you may not be able to find all information about services in the nations via that link. However, you can locate or find your local sexual health clinic, testing facilities or your local HIV charity wherever you are in the UK by going to www.startswithme.org.uk
Here are some more ideas of campaigns that you can run on your campus
You can place posters around on campus and local bars / nightclubs and also hold events where you can talk to students and myth-bust around HIV to break down misunderstandings and stigma. Another idea could be to get students to your local sexual health clinic together to try and break some of the anxieties around going to get checked out.
Hold a stall on campus which could have red ribbons, condoms, information/leaflets, cakes to give away/sell. Ensuring you have the information for your local sexual health clinic available as well as any local support groups.
Film showings are always popular. Book a lecture theatre or community venue and play a relevant film. “And The Band Played On” and “We Were Here” are 2 very good HIV/AIDS films. This could be free, or again you could ticket the event or ask for donations. Have red ribbons available here too.
Candlelit vigils. Many cities, especially those with a large HIV positive community (London, Brighton, Manchester etc.) hold candlelit vigils for those who have died, are living with or are affected by HIV/AIDS. Organise a trip to your local one. If there isn’t one, then organise your own. Talk to local LGBT charities to see if they can assist you with the organisation and publication. People such as local councilors / MPs are usually quite happy to speak at these events, which will help attract a media presence / spread the word.
Please remember that - Many people don’t like to talk about sexual health, so don’t be disheartened if people don’t talk to you. By being there and visible, you will still help get the issue on people’s minds! And if you have a really great idea or event, let other students’ unions know so they can hear about what you’ve achieved.