Tested negative? Stay that way!

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MFA produces new booklet to help gay men who have tested HIV negative to stay HIV negative

You pluck up the courage to go for an HIV test. The result comes back and it is good news – you’re HIV negative; you haven’t been infected with HIV. You might think that that’s the happy ending, but for many gay men it isn’t. A number of recent studies have shown that the majority of gay men who are diagnosed with HIV have had a previous negative test result and then became infected with HIV later.

“It’s a sad story, but a familiar one,” said Matthew Hodson of GMFA. “I think that lots of men when they test negative think that they will always have safer sex from then on, but then find that it’s not always easy. Getting a negative test result can give you the opportunity to think about your behaviour, why you felt you needed to test in the first place and what you can do stay safer in future, but without support a negative test can actually increase the chances of sexual risk taking.”

To help gay men who test negative to stay negative, GMFA have just produced a new booklet called ‘Tested Negative?’ This booklet provides both information and exercises that help men to take control of the sex that they have, and avoid the sex that is more risky than they want. The booklet is now available to gay men in some gay bars and is being distributed by health trainers on the scene and through GUM testing services in London. It can also be downloaded free of charge from GMFA’s website at Booklets for gay men in London.

Partly due to improvements in treatment for HIV, the uptake of HIV testing has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2003, just over 30,000 HIV tests were offered to gay men in the UK. By 2006, more than 41,000 HIV tests were being offered and the proportion of men getting tested had also increased. In London, 80% of tests offered are now being accepted by gay men[1].

While the numbers of tests have increased, most clinics only have limited time and resources to provide those with a negative HIV test result with safer sex information. Studies over the years found that men who tested negative repeatedly were more likely to have unprotected sex[2]. In a recent study, researchers for the Health Protection Agency found that negative HIV tests could contribute to a belief that some risky behaviours were actually safe enough and so lead to continued or increased risk behaviour. They also found that a negative HIV test “imbued men with a sense of immunity from HIV”[3].

The ‘Tested Negative’ booklet includes information on HIV tests, HIV risk and what to do if it all goes wrong, as well as exercises that can help men to make the changes they need to keep themselves safe. The booklet is designed so that readers can pick and choose the information and exercises that they need.

“Even though the medical treatment of HIV has greatly improved the life expectancy for people who are infected, HIV is still a very serious and incurable medical condition,” said Matthew Hodson. “Everything that we can do to support men to stay HIV negative is valuable, both for the individuals concerned and for the wider gay community. By reading this book and trying out some of the exercises you’re making a commitment to keep your negative HIV status forever.”

‘Tested Negative’ was written by GMFA staff and volunteers, working with clinic staff in sexual health services throughout London, including St Mary’s, Bart’s, Royal Free and Chelsea and Westminster.

Research references:
[1] HPA. Testing Times – HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections in the United Kingdom: 2007

[1] Elford, Jonathan et al. Incidence of HIV infection among gay men in a London HIV testing clinic, 1997-1998 (Research Letters). AIDS: Volume 15(5)30 March 2001pp 650-653

Norton J, Elford J, Sherr L, Miller R, Johnson M. Repeat HIV testing at a London same-day testing clinic. AIDS 1997, 11: 773 -781.

[1] INSIGHT study group. Factors associated with HIV seroconversion in gay men in England at the start of the 21st century. Sex. Transm. Inf. 2008;84;8-13

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