When it comes to sexual health, knowledge is power.
Many people have HIV and other conditions without knowing it. They might lack any symptoms, so they put off the testing that would enable them to get treatment – and to avoid putting future partners at risk.
Making it easier to test for sexually-transmitted infections should help to reduce infection rates. So there are high hopes for a new generation of products that allow people to test themselves at home.
One example is the BioSure HIV Self-Test, which earned wide publicity when it was launched earlier this year. Users can find out their HIV status almost instantly: the device analyses a small drop of blood and delivers a result within 15 minutes.
Alongside the HIV self-test kit, there are sampling kits for Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, and Hepatitis B and C. These kits are slightly different to the HIV test, requiring users to post off their samples for analysis. But they are still highly convenient and private, with results delivered via phone or text.
Counselling from a health adviser is provided wherever a result is positive, or where the customer chooses this option in the online store.
“There are many reasons why people might prefer not to go to a clinic for screening, or simply find it hard to do so,” explains Tanya Percy, Service Manager at the Freedoms Shop.
“These kits offer an extra choice. They allow people to take their samples at the most convenient time for them.
“We’ve tried to make the process as simple and discreet as possible. For example, the kits are posted out in plain packaging, and can easily be put through a letterbox – so there’s no need for people to sign for them.”
It’s hoped that expanding testing options in this way will encourage more people to have screening and to get the treatment they need.
An estimated 24% of people living with HIV in the UK are unaware of their condition, according to a Public Health England report. In 2013, 530 people with HIV died, most of whom were diagnosed late – demonstrating the importance of proactive testing and treatment. Prompt diagnosis can help people with HIV enjoy a near-normal life span.
Diagnoses of conditions such as Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and Chlamydia have also risen in recent years. As with HIV, these infections can be present without obvious symptoms, but if left untreated can cause serious health issues.
“Offering more flexible testing choices should enable more people to get peace of mind about their sexual health,” concludes Tanya Percy. “At a wider level, it should help us to reduce the incidence of these conditions in the population.”
There’s an extensive network of NHS sexual health services across the UK which include online resources, walk-in clinics and support services. You can find your local service by using this tool.