dr david bull

No Judgemental Bullsh*t

In Opinion Pieces on February 25, 2012 at 1:56 am

One night, some four or so years ago, I was in Los Angeles and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. It was about 11pm and I had fallen out of a bar after a couple of cocktails and was heading to another.

As I crossed the road a young man approached me and asked me if I’d like an HIV test. I was dumbfounded . It seemed the most incongruous offer of the night! The last thing I expected mid-revelry!

The young man gestured to a van parked at the side of the road. Willing participants went into the van where they had a private discussion with a healthcare worker who then swabbed their mouth. Nothing invasive nor painful. They were then asked to wait and in ten minutes they were told whether they had tested positive for the antibodies to the HIV virus .
Shocking I thought. Shocking but brilliant. This was outreach work at its best. They were targeting a group of people in their own environment, people that otherwise may not seek medical help. And buoyed by Dutch courage from the alcohol, the test did not seem as onerous as in a doctors surgery in the cold light of day. Anyone who tested positive was then offered counselling and the all-important follow up.

The enormity of what they had achieved with such a simple programme stayed with me and lodged in my brain.

Then a year or so later I happened to be having a meeting with David Brindle, the owner of a gay magazine in the UK about sexual health. I told him what I had seen and suggested that it would be a great thing to do in the UK. All credit to him. He listened and responded. We both realized that Soho was a captive market and that this was an outreach service that was well overdue.David embraced the project wholeheartedly and launched a bus that parked in Soho and offered HIV tests on the spot, just as I’d witnessed in LA.

What might have been dismissed as a niche activity was not!  The Department of Health got behind it and the Secretary of State for Health even turned up.

So why am I telling you this ?

Well, contrary to popular belief, HIV has not gone away. In fact  in 2010, UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF reported that there were over 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

But the great news is that there have been significant advances in treatment which means that in the developed world where there is access to medication, HIV has changed from being a life-threatening condition to a life-changing one.
Positive people are living full and healthy lives.

But there is a real risk that coupled with this is a rise in a new found complacency which means that people don’t get tested and don’t practice safe sex.

So what’s this to do with you? Well. if you are having a sexual relationship, especially if you have multiple partners, then you should get an HIV test as a matter of course. I want to see it becoming such a normal test that it is no longer a big deal. The more people test, the more the disease will lose its stigma.

Many people are terrified of being tested and actively avoid it. This is a very rational decision but is ultimately self-destructive. Avoiding the test does not make you disease free.

The biggest fear is actually fear itself.

So my advice is don’t run away. You won’t be able to run away forever. Seize control of the situation and get tested.
It could be the most important thing you’ve done EVER.

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