Guest Blog by Kevin Ditcham Health Promotion Specialist: Men Only Tayside – Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland
Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland (THTS) is part of the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity. Founded in 1982, it has been at the forefront combating the HIV epidemic for the past 33 years.
When Terry Higgins died with AIDS on 4th July 1982, his friends and partner took the love they had for him and the anger they felt at what he had gone through, and decided to make a change. They founded Terrence Higgins Trust in his name so that others wouldn’t have to endure the pain and stigma that he had suffered.
From just a handful of people, our charity has grown to become the largest voluntary sector provider of HIV and sexual health support across Great Britain. We staff phone lines, display posters, visit schools and run sexual health/HIV testing clinics. Other activities include, counselling services, youth groups and deliver high quality information via the web and social media. At times we hold the UK Government and devolved governments to account in order to ensure the best outcomes for those we support. For a time we helped people to die with dignity, but for the last 16 years we have helped children, young people and adults with HIV to live their lives to the fullest.
Today there are more people living with HIV than ever before and the latest figures show that there are now almost 7,000 people with the condition in Scotland. Of these, a quarter are unaware that they’re infected; this equates to approximately 1,600 people living in Scotland with HIV who don’t even know it. This places their health and wellbeing and that of others at risk.
For many people, HIV is perceived as something which has either gone away, is not relevant to them or is something that happens thousands of miles away in developing countries. The reality is that men and women from all walks of life are living with the virus and many more are at risk of infection. It is therefore vital that THT continues to deliver targeted prevention programmes, particularly for young people, and continues to raise awareness and provide testing for HIV and other STIs, as well as providing direct services to people living with HIV.
Our vision is a world where people with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination, and good sexual health is a right and reality for all.
Terrence Higgins Trust’s mission is to:
- Maximise sexual health in the UK, and minimise the spread of HIV and STIs, by encouraging people to value their sexual health and by leading innovation to increase access to local sexual health services;
- Empower everyone living with HIV in the UK to maximise their health and wellbeing by working to ensure the best possible HIV treatment and support services;
- Lead public and political support for HIV and sexual health issues, and campaign to eradicate stigma and discrimination
A national organisation helping improve the lives of people in Scotland:
Much has changed since the early days of HIV and as the shape of the epidemic has changed, so has the Trust. Our existing services across Scotland have been developed and we have introduced new services which are modern and innovative, thus meeting with the changing needs of people living with or affected by HIV and poor sexual health.
We are a national organisation with stability and infrastructure but have local roots, embedded within communities all across Scotland. We are confident that this ensures a long-term response to the HIV and sexual health needs of the people of Scotland.
THTS offer a range of practical, community-based services in Scotland, which include:
- Support services, such as mentoring for people living with HIV
- Counselling, advice and information
- Health promotion work targeting key at-risk groups
- HIV and STI testing services
We have a strong track record of delivering a successful programme of services in Scotland and with limited statutory income; most of our services in the country are funded through voluntary charitable donations. This funding has recently enabled us to launch a postal HIV testing service for anyone, living anywhere, in Scotland. This approach is unique and innovative within the UK as it does not simply target those who are perceived to be most at risk.
This new project, Fastest Direct, was developed following extensive research carried out by THT which showed that some people at risk of HIV would be more likely to test, or to test more regularly, if they could test themselves at home.
People who are diagnosed with HIV today can expect to live a long and healthy life. However, late diagnosis is a particular problem in Scotland, which can make it harder for treatment to work effectively and increases the risk of onward transmission to others if the person doesn’t know they have it. A large proportion of HIV transmission is due to people who are not aware of their diagnosis. By improving the availability of testing, THTS hopes to reduce the levels of undiagnosed HIV in Scotland and in turn reduce the chances of further onward transmission.
Research shows that reluctance to test in a clinical setting can typically be down to time pressure, the stigma of being seen at a sexual health clinic or discomfort when talking about sexual history with a medical practitioner. THTS developed the postal testing service to enable all people, including those in rural locations and young people, to access HIV testing. So far, it has helped us to access people who have previously been difficult to reach with conventional testing services and health promotion activities, from Shetland to the Borders.
Launched in November 2014, Fastest Direct has tested over 1,400 people and helped a number to know their status and get the essential treatment and care they need. Anyone in Scotland can order an HIV test from www.tht.org.uk/fastest. We’d encourage you to order one and take a test yourself; think of it as a routine MOT!
We recognise assets
We are a huge believer in asset-based approaches in all aspects of what we do. Whether this is about one to one support with individuals, empowering them to take greater influence in managing their health, or working with volunteers; it is about releasing their potential and capabilities. We recognise that everyone has assets, even if they don’t realise it yet. It’s our mission to work with people in providing the best outcomes for individuals and communities. Volunteers play a huge part in what we do and we really couldn’t achieve so much without them. Volunteers in Scotland support us in working with communities, health promotion work, staffing clinics, doing HIV testing, working on our phone line (THT Direct) as well as talking about HIV with their peers – one of the best ways to challenge the stigma!
If you’d like to find out about our work in Scotland, visit www.tht.org.uk/scotland. Follow us on Twitter @thtscotland, or search ‘Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland’ on Facebook. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.