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UK HIV testing campaign targets Africans

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LONDON — Zimbabweans and other African communities in the United Kingdom are the subjects of a major new HIV campaign to halt the spread of the disease.

The campaign, known as “It Starts With Me”, was created by the Terrence Higgins Trust and funded by the Department of Health. It will run until 2015.

Recent figures have revealed that the proportion of Africans acquiring HIV within the UK, as opposed to overseas, is now higher than ever.

Scientists last year analysed the CD4 cell counts and the year a person arrived in the UK and reached the conclusion that around 31% of African heterosexuals diagnosed with HIV may have acquired their infection in the UK.

Zimbabwe has one of the largest migrant communities in the United Kingdom, most of whom arrived in the last 15 years.

“It Starts With Me” will emphasise the personal role that each and every African can play in stopping the spread of HIV and drawing together the whole community in that effort, say campaigners.

Zimbabwean national Taku Mukiwa, who is the Terrence Higgins Trust’s Health Promotion Specialist for African communities said: “While a cure or vaccine for HIV remains out of reach, what many might not realise is that medical advances mean it is now within the grasp of Africans living in England to stop the virus in its tracks in this country.

“By getting as many people with HIV as possible tested and on effective treatment, we will see new infection rates fall rapidly.

“The latest figures suggest that the HIV epidemic is taking root among Africans here in the UK, with a higher proportion of transmissions taking place in this country than ever before.

“We can reverse this trend, but it only works if all Africans, from individuals, to local groups, to community and faith leaders, get behind the campaign and share the message within their own networks.

“We all have responsibility to keep ourselves and our partners safe, so I would encourage Africans to sign up to the campaign today and prove that the battle to stop the spread of HIV will ultimately be won by each and every one of us.”

The campaign is encouraging Africans to test for HIV at least once every 12 months, and more frequently if they have put themselves at risk, have a high number of partners or show symptoms of seroconversion illness.

Those who test positive for the virus which causes Aids will be encouraged to take the medication they need to stay fit and well and protect themselves during sex by using condoms.

Scientists and public health bodies agree that this combination of measures would drastically reduce undiagnosed people in the African community, long recognised as a key factor driving the epidemic.

A short video clip at www.StartsWithMe.org.uk explains how modern drug treatments reduce the level of virus in the body to an undetectable level, meaning someone with HIV who has tested and is on treatment is far less likely to pass the virus on than someone who remains undiagnosed.

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