WITH the number of HIV cases in the East of England on the rise, KATHRYN CAIN spoke to one clinic about how they are getting into the county’s schools to educate kids on how to have safe sex and get tested.
NOW I’m admittedly no doctor, but I believe many in the medical profession would agree with me when I say you can help solve a problem by identifying it at the source and taking a proactive response to do something about it.
I am of course talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how by getting out there and speaking to students in schools, as staff at the Terrence Higgins Trust and Brook clinic in Bedford do, many embarrassing and sometimes life-threatening conditions could be prevented altogether.
Recent figures have shown that there were 6,188 people living with HIV in the East of England at the end of 2011 and a quarter of these people were undiagnosed, leaving them at risk of serious health problems.
Historically the disease has been most prevalent among African people and homosexual men. However this trend is changing with statistics from the Health Protection Agency indicating that an increasing number of heterosexuals are contracting the virus in this country, as opposed to overseas.
More locally in Bedford, Biggleswade and Houghton Regis at the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and Brook, are helping to promote sexual health awareness in the community by creating a more accessible and approachable environment to which people of all ages feel they can bring their problems, questions or concerns.
THT and Brook started up in Bedford, three years ago combining two charitable services into one central sexual health clinic accessible to people from all walks of life.
One of the largest voluntary organisations of its kind in the country, the centre has almost 10,000 visits a year where doctors, nurses and specialist advisors provide a range of services, from advice on contraception and pregnancy to tests to sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).
Kim Davies, a member of the THT and Brook outreach team based in Broadway House, The Broadway, Bedford, which goes into schools to give talks and demonstrations to pupils, said: “My job is targeted at going to educational establishments and working with young people to give them support in having healthy and happy relationships. We can do it on a one to one basis or in small groups of about five or six.
“We talk about all sorts of things including if they know what STIs are and if they can name any, and also discuss how some are easily treated or that others can be with you for your whole life.
“Something that is coming up more now is internet safety. We give practical tips about not giving away too much personal information and also what led them to get into that kind of behaviour in the first place.”
Kim tells me that it’s not all facts and figures however, practical demonstrations are also given on what kind of contraceptions are available and how to use them.
She said: “We give STI and contraception sessions and how to protect yourself and that basically using a condom is the only way to protect against an STI short of becoming a nun or a monk. It is all about taking control of your body.
“Next month we are particularly looking at this in regard to the lesbian and gay community by holding an event to celebrate Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender History Month(LGBT).”
LGBT Month takes place every year in February. It celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community and is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Adam Wilkinson, regional manager for the East of England at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Thirty years on from the start of the epidemic, public understanding of HIV has dropped to a worrying level. As a result, we are starting to see an increase in the number of heterosexuals contracting the virus in the UK.
“It is important that everyone, no matter their age or background, understands that nobody is immune from infection. We all have a responsibility to get our understanding of the virus up to a basic level, and know how to keep safe.”
To find out more about what
services THT and Brook provide or how to get involved with LGBT month, visit: www.under-cover.org.uk or call 01234 761080.