Saving Lives began life at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham, UK. It was a response to a clear local issue: there was no agreed procedure for identifying and referring patients who might need an HIV test. The campaign initially centred on how best to provide clinicians, healthcare professionals and the public with the information they needed to improve understanding, and HIV awareness in the region.
The ultimate aim of the campaign was to decrease the numbers of people with undiagnosed HIV in the local community. We provided simple answers to frequently asked questions, such as what collection of symptoms and signs should automatically trigger HIV testing, and developed local protocols and innovative health promotion campaigns.
Any one of us could have HIV. Indeed, more than ten thousand people currently living with HIV don’t know they have it – that amounts to over 26,000 people in the UK alone. This is a real public health problem: undiagnosed patients can’t get treated, and may infect others. The importance of testing is that, if done right, it diagnoses patients early: it gets them into treatment more quickly, and prevents what is called ‘onwards transmission’. In the long-term, this even saves the NHS money!
Over the years, Saving Lives has expanded. It has become a national charity, and attracted ambassadors from many walks of life, including sport, medicine and popular music; it has become a strong voice on social media for reducing stigma and increasing testing.and it has expanded its remit to help advocate for the increased awareness, greater testing, and mutual understanding that we champion.
As well as advocating for increased HIV awareness and greater testing, Saving Lives has now expanded it’s remit to help advocate for Hepatitis B & C and other STIs.
When Saving Lives began, one in three of those with HIV did not know they were infected. That figure is now far lower, and we’re proud to be a part of the community that is making that change – for people living with HIV, and for those living with other, often related, conditions, too.