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Call for more testing with Hackney HIV rates well above UK average

10:55 28 November 2013

Paul Fleming

Paul Fleming

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HIV rates in Hackney are five times higher than the UK average, figures by Public Health England revealed last week.

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Overall, the borough has the ninth highest prevalence of the disease in London – and it’s feared there may be hundreds more people in Hackney with the condition undiagnosed.

Paul Fleming, director of fundraising and communications at HIV charity Positive East, in Mile End, said the high rates are attributed to many factors, but that a reluctance by people to get checked is a huge problem.

Mr Fleming, of Pitfield Street, Hoxton, who is himself HIV positive, said: “HIV does not discriminate whether you are rich or poor, black or white, heterosexual or homosexual.”

It’s currently National HIV Testing Week and he urged the public to get checked out for the disease, which affects at least 100,000 people across the country.

Mr Fleming first discovered he had the virus in 2003 after he got tested at St Bart’s Hospital in St Paul’s.

“I was going through a difficult time in life”, he said. “I was having ‘one of those days’ which lasted a year. I was let go from my job at an international training company. I was trying to find something else and nothing went right for a long period.

“I made some bad decisions. One of those decisions was having unprotected sex. I made one wrong decision which resulted in me becoming HIV positive.

“A lot of people judge you when you have HIV and say you brought it on yourself. I made one wrong decision. I would not equate the two. People regularly make 20 to 40 wrong decisions a day.”

Encouraging people to get tested, he said: “Many people don’t get symptoms that would make them feel they have got HIV.

“You can get flu-like symptoms but lots of people have flu-like symptoms and don’t have HIV. You might feel unwell or under the weather,

“However, all of these symptoms are possibly something else.”

He said 45 per cent of people in City and Hackney were diagnosed late, which could impact the quality of their lives, saying: “Thirty years after the first case, there’s so much ignorance. With medication, it’s possible to live a full life. There’s no reason that my life expectancy is less than anybody else’s. I am alive because I know I have HIV. If I didn’t know I had it I would have died by now.”

According to Hackney Council, nearly half of new cases of HIV in Hackney are diagnosed late, with heterosexual people and people of African heritage most likely to have the illness found late.

In 2012 in Hackney, 1,374 people were known to be HIV positive and receiving HIV related care.

National HIV testing week takes place from November 22 to 29.

Throughout the week staff from Homerton Sexual Health Services and Positive East will be out and about in Hackney offering help and advice to residents and visitors.

They will be at locations including Dalston CLR James Library in Dalston Square, Dalston, and Upper Clapton United Reform Church in Upper Clapton Rd, Upper Clapton.

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