Two Labour MPs, shadow cabinet member Luke Pollard and backbencher Taiwo Owatemi, have today ‘given HIV the finger’ by doing tests on camera in a bid to tackle stigma via an event with charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
During National HIV Testing Week – the biggest yet as orders for HIV tests have broken all previous records – the MPs promoted the fact that anyone living in England can order a free HIV home test kit via the It Starts With Me website.
The kits arrive in plain packaging, take a few minutes to do, and are sent back in the post with a result by text or email a few days later. They are also available from HIV Self Test Scotland, Frisky Wales or Positive Life in Northern Ireland.
The previous daily ordering record was in 2019, when 2,800 tests were ordered, but 8,200 tests were ordered on Monday. Terrence Higgins Trust has attributed the rise partly to the highly praised Russell T Davies drama It’s A Sin.
More than 40 Labour MPs have been ‘giving HIV the finger’ during National HIV Testing Week to encourage constituents to get tested and to help the ambition backed by Labour to end the domestic HIV epidemic by 2030.
Pollard, a patron of LGBT Labour, said: “I’m proud to support National HIV Testing Week and play my part to end HIV stigma. As I saw for myself, HIV testing is now quick, easy, and pain-free.
“The huge progress in the fight against HIV and normalising HIV testing is one way all of us can take the country forward to ending new cases of HIV full stop by 2030.
“Like the millions of others, I’ve been moved to tears after watching It’s A Sin and it’s fantastic this is now having a real-life impact with record-breaking orders for home HIV test kits.
“As Plymouth’s first openly gay MP, I’m determined to ensure the city’s LGBT+ communities hear about HIV Testing Week and know their status, as well as ensuring everyone knows they have a responsibility in the fight against HIV and that starts with ordering a test.”
Owatemi commented: “I was delighted to join Terrence Higgins Trust and support National HIV Testing Week by doing a test. The test took me less than 15 minutes to do and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the offer of a free test to do at home.”
The MP for Coventry North West who sits on the health select committee added: “As a former pharmacist, I know the importance of ensuring people take control of their health and can access life-saving treatment if they need it.
“Far too many people still don’t know their HIV status, with stigma, discrimination, and racism often barriers to accessing services. As we look towards ending new cases of HIV by 2030, no one can be left behind in this.”
Writing for LabourList this week, Labour’s shadow health minister Alex Norris wrote about allyship and encouraged people to be like the character Jill from It’s a Sin because “HIV is everyone’s responsibility”.
Commenting on the event, Terrence Higgins Trust’s Brady said: “There’s been a phenomenal response to this year’s National HIV Testing Week following the huge success of It’s A Sin, but also thanks to MPs using their platform to shout about HIV.
“We’ve come a long way since the days portrayed on the show, so much so that people living with HIV can now expect a normal and healthy life. It’s not the science that’s holding us back, it’s stigma, so normalising HIV testing is crucial.
“The government has committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030 but we can only get there by stepping up testing, this means anywhere the NHS takes a blood sample it should automatically screen for HIV.”