St Albans HIV charity offers ‘revolutionary’ at home test
A struggling HIV charity has condemned the county council for not funding a ‘revolutionary’ testing technique that they have been using for more than year.
An HIV testing clinic in Birmingham hit the headlines this week after introducing an at home HIV test to help tackle late diagnosis of the virus - which can have fatal consequences.
The Crescent, an HIV support charity in St Albans, has been using a virtually identical system where users can request a test, take it at home, post it and then have someone at the charity contact them with the results, all for free.
The charity, which had its funding cut by Herts County Council (HCC) several years ago, has condemned HCC for not taking up the system when it became available to them more than a year ago.
Iain Murtagh, head of operations at The Crescent, said: “We’re managing to do this on donations from the generous people of St Albans and grants.
“It seems crazy that this is something Public Health England (PHE) is pushing this but the county council still won’t provide us with funding or provide it themselves.”
The system allows people to take tests discreetly and on their own time, with support available when they get their result.
Iain added: “They [HCC] don’t offer a postal service. If somebody doesn’t want to go into the clinic they can’t get a test. There’s a big stigma associated with going to a sexual health clinic for some people, and others have to work and can’t get the time off.”
The test costs £12, but could save the NHS the hundreds of thousands of pounds it costs to treat those who are diagnosed late and then pass on the virus to others unknowingly.
Iain said that the stereotypes surrounding the disease could prevent some people from testing.
He added: “The test in Birmingham is only available to ‘at risk’ communities, [which is] black Africans and gay men I believe, whereas ours is available to all, irrespective of gender, orientation or ethnicity.
“Across the globe there are more heterosexual people with HIV than homosexual, and the majority of our users are heterosexual.”
Late diagnosis is well above national average in Herts and is widely seen as the most detrimental factor to the health of those living with the virus.
Twenty five per cent of people who have HIV are unaware that they have it, and Iain told the Herts Advertiser that a patient was 10 times more likely to die in the first year if their diagnosis was late.
Since introducing the testing service the charity has seen an increase in people testing multiple times. “This wasn’t happening before,” Iain added.
A spokesperson for Herts county council said that they would be offering free postal test kits in the future.
He added they would continue to offer community testing through HIV charity HertsAid, based in Watford and Ware, and provide other testing facilities throughout the county.
If you would like to request a test, click here.