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What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens a person’s ability to fight everyday infections and disease. HIV can be transmitted from one person to another through bodily fluids. This includes semen, vaginal and anal fluid and blood.

Some groups of people are at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV, such as people with a current or previous partner with HIV, men who have unprotected sex with men and people who are from an area with high HIV rates.

It’s estimated that around 107,000 people in the UK are living with HIV – just under 1 in every 600 people. Of these, around 5,000 are undiagnosed. In 2021, 2,955 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can be used to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. It describes a practice where a HIV-negative person takes antiretroviral medication to reduce the chance of getting HIV from an infected partner.

The risk of transmitting HIV can also be reduced by using male or female condoms or lubricant during sex and not sharing needles and other injecting materials during drug use..

HIV is different from AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) – a term used to describe the range of infections and illnesses which can result from a weakened immune system caused by HIV. If HIV is left untreated, it can lead to AIDS.

The NHS website provides information about HIV, its treatment and healthcare services.

Testing for HIV and National Testing Week

National HIV Testing Week is HIV Prevention England’s flagship annual event. It seeks to promote regular HIV testing among the most-affected population groups in England.

In England, local authorities are responsible for providing HIV testing services, along with other public health services. Each local authority receives an allocation from the Government’s ring-fenced public health grant. In 2022/23, the DHSC made £3.417 billion available to local authorities under the grant. Local authorities may directly provide or commission sexual health services, and providers commonly include general practice, sexual health clinics and community partners.

In December 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published Towards Zero: HIV Action Plan for England 2022 to 2025.  It set out a Government commitment to “scale up HIV testing” and deliver an annual national HIV Testing Week to “get 20,000 higher risk people to test for HIV, deliver a wide range of prevention campaigns and innovative promotion activity, and provide extensive expert cross-system support for local HIV prevention activities”.

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