Testing Week Scotland an opportunity to speak to people at risk of HIV/hepatitis C

As part of Testing Week Scotland, Scottish Drugs Forum are encouraging service planners and providers who may come into contact with people who inject drugs, to make themselves aware of the importance of testing for blood-borne viruses and to signpost people who may be at risk to get tested regularly.

Testing Week Scotland takes place from 11-17 September and aims to raise awareness of the benefits of testing for HIV and hepatitis C, whilst also this year expanding the campaign to include broader sexual health testing.

In Scotland, action on HIV and hepatitis C is central to the ambition of the Scottish Government’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework.

Throughout the campaign, ‘Know Your Risk’ – an action group formed of organisations involved in the delivery of the framework (including Hepatitis Scotland) – are raising awareness through a series of events, online messages and the launch of a new website – www.knowyourrisk.scot

There is currently an outbreak of HIV amongst people who inject drugs in Glasgow, which now includes over 100 confirmed cases of people who seem to have become infected within the last three years.

This has highlighted significant issues in terms of prevention as well as engaging and retaining people in anti-retroviral treatment. Sadly, some people infected in the outbreak are now unwell; others have died.

There are significant implications for practice in injecting equipment provision, prevention work and information on HIV for people who inject drugs and frontline services which should be applied nationally.

Of great importance is ensuring those who are at risk of blood borne virus transmission receive regular blood tests. The challenges of engaging key populations in testing means that HIV is typically diagnosed late, increasing mortality rate and the likelihood of onwards transmission. Access to and frequency of testing should be consistent across Scotland and maintained even when risk is perceived as low.

For service planners and providers, remaining vigilant through widespread testing and monitoring results is the best means of detecting an outbreak, such as the one in Glasgow, early. For further information, Scottish Drugs Forum has produced a downloadable booklet entitled ‘HIV: What Staff Need to Know’

For individuals involved in injecting drug use, regular testing (every six months) is a key aspect of prevention and early treatment just as it is for other risk groups, including men who have sex with men.

Scottish Drugs Forum will be working to ensure these lessons are learned and applied.

For more information on where to get a blood test please contact your local drug service, sexual health service, GP practice.

If you are a service that works with people who inject drugs and would like more information or training relating to Blood-Borne Viruses please contact: emma(at)sdf.org.uk