On the 1st of December (World AIDS Day) I decided to order a free HIV home test. I am heterosexual and have been in a monogamous relationship with my partner for 7 years. Even though I am in a low-risk group, I was shocked to read the latest news from the British HIV Association that new diagnoses of HIV in heterosexuals where the infection was probably acquired in the UK is around 50%, almost double 2002 levels.
I ordered my test from https://www.DrEd.com/uk/ who was giving up to 100 away for free because of World AIDS Day. It was fairly easy, I just needed to set up an account and they even offered to inform my GP for me if I wanted them to. On Monday I got an email saying my account had been updated, when I logged in there was a message saying my test had been dispatched.
On Tuesday I came downstairs in the morning to find my test waiting for me in a plain black envelope.
I had my breakfast and a cup of coffee, put HBO’s Girls on the TV and still in my pyjamas sat down at my coffee table and opened up the pack. You can see what comes in the pack below right
This is what the package looks like when it comes through the post, pretty inconspicuous really. It fits through the letterbox and there is no way you can tell what it’s about without opening it up.
Once you open it up this is what you will see. There is an instruction booklet, a pre-paid envelope to send it back in, a collection tube, name stickers and 3 mini needles.
All done! Once everything is in the envelope you can post it in any Royal Mail Postbox.
I’ll be honest – I am a complete wimp when it comes to needles. I can do it to somebody else but when it comes to me I can barely look. I spent a good ten minutes with the jabber on my finger counting to 3 repeatedly. I then had to get a fair amount of blood out into the small pot, and ended up having to prick another finger. Ultimately, it wasn’t too bad and I got there in the end.
I know there has been some controversy about HIV home test kits, understandably so. I felt it was appropriate for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, services in Essex are pretty rubbish, and make the process rather lengthy. Secondly, I work in healthcare and have plenty of people I could call on if I am worried/anxious or if the result came back positive. Thirdly, I am fairly low risk, if I had had a risky encounter I may want to speak to somebody about it first, and find out the facts.
When I ordered the test I felt pretty calm about it, and just saw it as an opportunity to raise awareness. However, whilst waiting for the test I have found myself becoming increasingly anxious about the results. Could I still be a nurse if it comes back positive? What if I have infected others without realising it? Who could I have got it from? I was one sleepless night away from planning my medication routine. During this process I researched a fair bit about HIV and found out some interesting facts:
a.) There is a 1.8% chance of catching HIV from a needle-stick injury, not the 100% I assumed it would be.
b.) Significantly fewer people were able to identify correctly the ways in which HIV is transmitted in a 2007 survey than were able to do so seven years earlier.
c.) There are estimated to be 22,600 people living with HIV in the UK who are unaware of their infection. This represents 24% of everyone living with HIV in the UK.
I have come to realise that this is now a chronic, manageable condition, it is no longer the death sentence it once was. I also realised how little I really knew about HIV and how ignorant I was. I find it heart-breaking that people are becoming less aware of HIV, and incredibly worrying that people are becoming less able to correctly identify the ways in which HIV is transmitted.
Whilst I waited for my results I got a phone call from an unknown number, they confirmed they were speaking to Miss Elizabeth Parr, and at that point my heart was in my mouth. Luckily, it was just a call about some work I was doing. It made me realise how nervous I really was about the chance of my results coming back positive though.
On Friday I was lucky enough to have my results come through as negative, which has left me to reflect on my experience of the home-test.
For me, it was fantastic; in total it probably took me 45 minutes to order the test, take it and send it back off. I didn’t have to have any sort of awkward conversations and I didn’t need to tell anybody the result if I didn’t want to. However, had I struggled to get the sample or if it had come back positive, I would feel very differently.
Whilst looking for the test I wanted to take, I also came across home-testing that gives you rapid results, similar to a pregnancy test. Although it would have stopped me having an anxious few days, they are less reliable and had the test come back positive I would have had absolutely no support. I think I would prefer to have an anxious 48 hours than find out that sort of news on my own.
I have learnt a lot about HIV over the past few weeks, and I wish more people would get themselves tested, it is becoming increasingly easier to find out your status. Even though I am low-risk and the result came back negative, I have still learnt a lot through this process. If you’re reading this and don’t know your status, go and get yourself tested! There are no embarrassing conversations, no lectures and it could save you or your partner’s life.
Councillor Elizabeth Parr is the Liberal Democratic councillor for Elsenham and Henham, in Essex. This article first appeared on her blog here.