People across England are being encouraged to take free finger-prick at home HIV tests as part of a drive to end new cases of the virus by 2030.
The free DIY tests are being offered to mark National HIV Testing Week and can be ordered on the NHS via the website freetesting.hiv.
The tests are small enough to fit through a letterbox and arrive in plain packaging, with instructions on what to do if the test is positive.
The results take just 15 minutes and the tests works in a similar way to an at-home pregnancy test or Covid lateral flow test, but uses a few drops of blood from a prick on the finger.
If preferred, people can order a test where a small blood sample is sent to a lab and screened for both HIV and syphilis at the same time. Free HIV testing is also available in-person from local sexual health clinics.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, which runs National HIV Testing Week for the Department of Health, is working to raise awareness of the kits - including among heterosexuals.
It has been collaborating with BBC soap EastEnders on a new storyline where character Zack Hudson is diagnosed with the virus.
Taku Mukiwa, head of health programmes at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It’s truly never been quicker, easier or more convenient to test for HIV than during this year’s National HIV Testing Week. Gay and bisexual men and black African people continue to be the most impacted by HIV in the UK, but anyone who’s sexually active can be affected and should think about testing.
“As the EastEnders HIV storyline we’ve been advising on shows, the truth is it’s always better to know your HIV status, whether positive or negative.”
He added: “If it’s negative, you can make sure it stays that way. While, as Zack in EastEnders is learning, huge advances in HIV treatment mean you can live a long healthy life with the virus, have children who are HIV-negative and that HIV can’t be passed on to anyone else.”
‘Testing is the only way to know your HIV status’
Health minister Neil O’Brien said as part of the government’s HIV action plan, NHS England has made a £20 million investment in opt-out HIV testing in emergency departments in areas of extremely high HIV prevalence to ensure people get the right treatment as early as possible.
He said: “People can live with HIV for a long time without any symptoms and testing is the only way to know your HIV status. Testing for HIV is quick, free, confidential and easy. It can be even more convenient with the option to test for HIV in the comfort of your own home.”
Dr Alison Brown, interim head of HIV surveillance at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “HIV does not discriminate, so no matter your gender or sexual orientation, using condoms and PrEP if you’re eligible are key to prevention. In the UK, people who are unaware they are living with HIV are most likely to pass the virus on to others.
“Taking up a free and confidential HIV test regularly when having condomless sex will ensure you’re diagnosed early and started on effective treatment, helping to reduce transmission of HIV and the number of people with undiagnosed HIV. In some areas HIV and STIs self-sampling kits can be done in the comfort of your own home.”
The most recent UKHSA data shows HIV testing rates are still 20% lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heterosexual men in particular are now testing less than in 2019, whereas testing among gay and bisexual men increased by 23% from 2020 to 2021. Testing rates among women have fallen by 22% compared with 2019.
There are an estimated 95,900 people living with HIV in England, of whom about 4,400 are undiagnosed.