Sexual health experts from the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust will be doing their rounds at this year’s Birmingham Pride at the weekend, to offer free and confidential finger-prick tests for hepatitis-B, hepatitis-C and HIV.
Staff fromBirminghamHeartlandsHospitalwill be working alongside the city-wide community sexual health service, Healthy Gay Life, to deliver HIV, hepatitis-B and hepatitis-C tests at theUK’s largest two-day lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender festival.
Supported by the national HIV awareness charity Saving Lives, the team will be offering dry blood spot testing to revellers with the catchphrase, “Don’t brush it under the carpet.” The dry blood spot test is a finger-prick test which can delivered quickly and easily outside of a clinical setting.
“One in four of those who are living with HIV in theUKdon’t know they are infected,” explains Dr Sophie Flavell, the medic leading this weekend’s efforts. “That means they can’t access today’s life-saving treatments, and may unknowingly be passing on their infection to others.Birminghamhas one of the highest rates of undiagnosed HIV outsideLondon.”
The dry blood spot test is one way to increase the number of people getting tested for all three blood-born infections. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to manage HIV and both hepatitis-B and –C, and offers those infected the chance to live full and healthy lives.
Nigel Burbidge, manager of Healthy Gay Life, said: “Issues of access and stigma still dissuade many from taking the test for these infections,” he explains. “Presenting testing to communities in familiar environments, and with fresh and accessible messages, will improve take-up of testing – and therefore the health of many people.”
Dr Steve Taylor, a consultant atBirminghamHeartlandsHospitaland medical director of Saving Lives, added: “All three of these viruses can infect people without them knowing, and remain undiagnosed for over 10 years without presenting symptoms. The only way to diagnose these viruses, then, is to examine a person’s blood for signs of infection. The dried blood spots are sent to the regional laboratories at Public Health Birmingham for analysis.”
Natasha Anderson is a Sexual Health Adviser atHeartlandsHospital’s Department of Sexual Health. “Everyone who tests will be given a results card with a number unique to them, and a phone number to call our team of health advisers when the results are ready,” she says. “With its diverse ethnic background, the population ofBirminghamwill carry a large proportion of undiagnosed cases of viral hepatitis. If left undiagnosed, both hepatitis-B and –C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.”
A recent Saving Lives campaign onBirmingham’s buses and billboards, promoting the HIV testing clinic at Heartlands hospital, saw thirty-nine per cent of attendees citing the posters as a reason for taking the test. The campaign at Pride hope to see similar enthusiasm for the quick and easy tests.
“The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended more testing amongst men who have sex with men,” says Dr Flavell. “Pride offers us the opportunity to achieve that, and we really want to get as many people as possible tested over the course of the weekend.
“The dry blood spot test takes testing to the people, and whilst we’d stress a test in a clinic will provide the most accurate result, the spot test is still a great way to check your status and become more aware of testing as part of your regular health regime.”
The testing team will be present for both days of Birmingham Pride, between10amand7pmat Healthy Gay Life,146 Bromsgrove Street.