Firstly may we say that we fully support every effort to get more people tested for HIV and welcome new approaches despite no longer having any funding to do so ourselves after 25 years.
However today we listened in absolute horror to the following local radio broadcast, featuring Hertfordshire County Council’s authorised HIV service, Herts Aid, this week as they conducted an HIV test on air. It contained a number of statements and information, which could, at best, be considered questionable.
For example partway through the test the Herts Aid rep, Tony Skeate, MSM Communities worker, is heard to say that HIV is no longer a problem “just take your tablets and get on with life”… not exactly a sentiment held by Tom Hayes (AKA UKPositiveLad) in this interview with the Guardian where he talks about the difficulties HIV presents following his diagnosis, and not just for him of course.
Other issues include identifying transgender as a third sex, as in the opening sequence are you male, female or transgender? Surely it is more appropriate to ask how the person defines their gender identity?
Then asking someone who has previously just identified as a woman if they are a man who has sex with men?
At various points information is confusing and misleading it seems, phrases like sperm washing are used, and in Vitro, with no explanation as to why, or what these are? Also says that having children is no problem, and even talks about a Swiss study using phraseology that would not necessarily be understood by the person in the street so to speak.
Living with HIV and having children is of course very possible, however anyone who has undergone any kind of fertility treatment would not be likely to say it is easy by any stretch, let alone whilst living with HIV as well.
Also suggests that families are always supportive when diagnosed, that the test requires a thimbleful of blood… not true, just a drop is all that is needed. It also appears that Herts Aid seek to promote a particular life insurance company as a “good place to go” and “they are efficient”
Alarming comments about it “not being like the 80’s when people just “topple over and die” after a diagnosis and that HIV is now “not really a problem”
Also referring to “if we can find all the people with HIV”, seems to some who have complained to us, like a witch hunt is in progress.
At the end of the test although had explained the window period appeared to discourage a second test with a comment “if you feel you need a second test” and also encouraged the participant to take a photo of the test result.
Lastly from a clinical point of view the Herts Aid staff member then appeared to clean the finger of the person to be tested with a sterilised swab, and then proceeded to blow on it to dry it afterwards, completely negating the point of using the swab in the first place.
Overall the opinion of those who have heard this broadcast is that they would not consider using the service for a test, and were more confused about what HIV was, and what it meant to be positive, than before.
All round this means that the it’s ok to get tested message is lost, in our opinion, and has seemingly missed the point of the exercise. This agency has half a million pounds of funding. Is this really the best we can expect from Hertfordshire County Council and their HIV support service?
So many agencies around the country are working hard to ensure the word gets out, that stigma is reduced and that people come forward to be tested. This agency seem to be doing their best to do the reverse.
We hope you will agree…