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New HIV project targeting the African community in Redbridge seeks to raise awareness

12:00 15 June 2014

Rebecca Byekwaso giving someone an HIV test. [Picture: Positive East]

Rebecca Byekwaso giving someone an HIV test. [Picture: Positive East]

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HIV has been subjected to years of stigma and myths surrounding how it is passed on and the effect it has on people.

Swati Vyas, health partnerships manager at Redbridge CVSSwati Vyas, health partnerships manager at Redbridge CVS

Advances in medical care have given people with the virus a higher chance of leading healthy lives, but the issue of raising awareness is still key in many places, including Redbridge.

The borough has a high rate of diagnosed HIV – 2.75 per 1,000 people aged 15-59, compared to 1.7 for England as a whole.

But the organisers of a new project are determined to support residents in high-risk communities and highlight the truth about the virus.

The Redbridge Council for Voluntary Services (Redbridge CVS) and HIV charity Positive East have teamed up to run a sixth-month scheme in the borough.

Swati Vyas, the health partnerships manager at Redbridge CVS, said: “HIV rates are higher in Redbridge compared to London and the idea is to target the African community; that is why we will be doing this awareness raising.

“The idea is to recruit people from these communities who can speak African languages to work as HIV health buddies.”

The buddies will be going out into the community, visiting places such as libraries.

They will be required to do at least three “sessions” and may also be involved in planning events for World Aids Day later this year.

Steve Worrall, 52, deputy director of Positive East, said: “We are targeting the African community because we are very aware that there are higher levels of late diagnosis than in other communities.

“One of the consequences of having a late diagnosis is that the immune system is affected for a longer period of time.”

The project marks the beginning of the east London charity having a bigger presence in the borough.

It already works with the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) and with voluntary organisations, but under the scheme it will now be offering “at least” one HIV testing clinic a week in the borough.

It will also provide some one-to-one sessions.

Positive East’s role in the project will be slightly different from that of Redbridge CVS, with the latter aiming to do “community outreach” as well as raising awareness.

If any residents test positive at the clinics, they will be fully supported by the charity.

Mr Worrall said: “We refer them to the hospital, where they get a second test to confirm the results.

“We make sure we work closely with the hospital around supporting people. While the hospital would work on the medical side like treatment, we support people on their diagnosis, on how to live with HIV.

“Our aim is for people to live independently in the community with HIV and lead healthy lives.”

Redbridge CVS has already put its health buddies idea into action for an awareness campaign on TB (tuberculosis), which has met with some success.

It is hoped that this scheme, which may run longer than six months if it makes an impact, will encourage more people to be aware of HIV and to be tested. Ms Vyas said almost 63 per cent of people in England are not aware they have HIV and they are often diagnosed late, which causes a “knock-on effect on outcomes”.

She added: “There are a lot of people who are not aware of their HIV status because they are not tested and then they would affect other people.

“The sooner the diagnosis, the better outcome for the person and their family. They can lead an almost normal life.”

For more information on being a health buddy, contact Ms Vyas by calling 020 8514 9626 or emailing swati@redbridgecvs.net.

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