The power of Facebook showed itself once again this month as Prince Harry was broadcast having an HIV test live on social media, in a public attempt to remove the taboo which still surrounds HIV and testing. Whilst the simple procedure took only a matter of minutes to be performed on Harry, the broadcast stood as a marker for a message which we can only hope sustains its poignancy over time.
Whilst Harry’s public display saw him continuing his mother’s mission to break stigma and raise awareness, it seems that in many ways he is still fighting the same battle that Diana was back in the 80s. But the message is still painstakingly simple. Now with ‘Test and Treat’ programmes globally, the more people test, the more diagnoses are made and the more effective treatments are.
Even with the sophistication and simplicity of testing procedures, it’s estimated that around 19,000 people in the UK are still unaware that they have HIV and unwittingly are responsible for the majority of new infections. Unfortunately a significant part of this is due to a sense of fear and shame about what a positive result means, leading people to choose wilful ignorance over testing. However, being tested can, and should, be normalised. That clichéd saying ‘knowledge is power’ really holds true here - we can’t beat HIV while we’re unaware of our status.
It is vitally important that everyone is aware of how treatable HIV is and that starting treatment early means your own life expectancy and health will not be affected and that the virus can be reduced to an undetectable level. Critically this means the virus cannot be transmitted.
I’m reluctant to admit, but unfortunately, we can’t all be a Prince Harry (despite what that tiara or crown in your old dressing up box says). But that doesn’t mean we can’t all do our bit, not just taking responsibility for our own health but protecting that of others. It really is as straight-forward as testing and encouraging those around us to do the same.
Think it’s easier said than done? Let us prove you wrong (if Harry hasn’t done so already). There’s several different ways that you can go about getting yourself tested. Historically, the most common way is through your local sexual health clinic, but there are now other testing options. It has recently become possible to self test for HIV, which is not just convenient but discrete and private (don’t worry, we don’t expect a live stream!)
But Prince Harry’s pledge was not just about encouraging us to know our own status, but to normalise the act of testing as a whole. This requires not just an action, but a voice. Once we’re aware of our own statuses, the next step is to spread the word. Start by mentioning our royal man-of-the-moment, and see where the conversation takes you. Who knows, you might just end up playing your part in ending HIV…… #knowyourstatus