Breaking The Chain
COVID lockdown also gives us the chance to halt HIV and STI transmission in their tracks
Disclaimer: This content was written and published during the COVID-19 Alert levels and lockdown in 2020. We’re keeping the article up as we think there’s still useful info and advice in here – but please remember the context in which it was written may be very different to how things are now.
A silver lining of the dark cloud of COVID-19 is that it presents us with an incredible opportunity to actually break the chain of transmission for other viruses - like, say, HIV!
While we’ve all been isolating in the comfort of our own homes, we’ve been stopping HIV’s main route of transmission in its tracks - which means we have the potential to drastically impact the rate of transmission in Aotearoa (and make Ashley Bloomfield proud of another zero on the board).
What we need to do now is make sure we don’t fumble this opportunity and get tested for HIV and other STIs before heading back out into the world and into the “arms” of our next sexual partners. We aren't saying you're in the clear to start hooking up again yet - but there will come a point in time when you are, and this is how we’ll get back to it with a bit more social responsibility.
If we all get tested before we get back to connecting with our wider sexual networks, we have the chance to truly end HIV transmission in Aotearoa. There are an estimated 700 people living with undiagnosed HIV in Aotearoa. This means that, if every single one of us manages to get tested before the steamy reunions once we leave the alert levels - we will be able to help these people learn their status and be connected to treatment (which will stop them from being able to transmit - thanks to U=U).
Remember, while HIV will undoubtedly change your life, it does not mean it’s over. With modern treatments, it’s very likely you will achieve an undetectable viral load within 6 months, which not only means better long-term health - but it means HIV cannot be transmitted sexually. There is no shame in learning you are living with HIV, it is so much more dangerous when you don’t know. It’s important to know that if you do get a positive result you will be connected to treatment within days of finding out and there are services, peers and communities who are here, ready and waiting to support you.
It’s very safe to say that the world won’t forget the COVID-19 pandemic anytime soon - and nor should we. The lessons learned during this time will hopefully inform future pandemic responses and shed even more light on the mistakes of managing previous pandemics that should never be repeated again.
So, what’s the plan?
Let’s keep things simple:
1) Lockdown can break the chain of HIV and other STIs
2) Before even thinking about hooking up after lockdown - get a full HIV & STI screening to break it for good!
3) Book a test as soon as you can, and check out ordering a home test if you can’t access testing right now
There are a couple of things to keep in mind.
One, we obviously are being encouraged to not overload the health system at this stage, so please call ahead and keep calling until there is a time that works for both your provider and you.
Two, this will only work if we all get on board. It’s so essential that we end this cycle that has disproportionately affected our communities since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. This is our chance to take the power back from years of health inequities, discrimination, criminalisation and isolation that has left our communities most at risk of HIV even today. We’ve been saying it for years, but now it’s more important than ever - together we can end HIV transmissions in Aotearoa.
Still not sure? Want to hear what the experts have to say?
We have a never-before-seen chance to end HIV transmissions altogether. If we don’t take this opportunity - we could actually see more transmission once we leave lockdown. Let’s not let that happen.
“But I was tested recently?”
That’s okay, let’s set a new baseline where we all know our statuses for this period.
“How do I get one during lockdown?”
Good question! Depending on your situation, start with your GP - ask if they are offering full STI and HIV screenings and find out when the next appointment is and lock it in.
This isn’t an option for everyone, we totally get that - so, if you can’t afford a GP visit or don’t feel comfortable contacting your GP, take a look at your nearest Sexual Health Service and see whether they are still running clinics during the Alert Levels and head along to the next one for a full screening.
Again, this might not be an option for everyone - so we’ve got you covered. We've opened the criteria for ordering free HIV home self tests to all gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, regardless of when they last tested for HIV. So, if you cannot access testing through the above avenues - you can head to our testing page and order one to carry out in the comfort of your own home. Please note that, due to COVID-19, delivery times and estimates may be affected, so please be patient with this service. We’re doing our best.
“Home/self-tests only detect HIV, right?”
Yes, you’re right. The self-tests will help us break the chain of HIV transmission, but you’ll still need to screen for other STIs when you can, too. This means we can put a dent in the soaring syphilis, gonnorhoea and chlamydia rates we are seeing in Aotearoa.