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Safe Sex Berkshire Launches Campaign

Berkshire’s Public Health team is launching a new multi-media campaign today to help educate people on the importance of ‘staying safe sexually’ by avoiding STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) in particular, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Moreover, the aim is for people to learn about the preventative treatment, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is proven clinically to help prevent HIV infection and available free on prescription. Radio and online digital advertising plus social media posts will run for 4-weeks to complement the new-look, updated and refreshed website: www.safesexberkshire.nhs.uk.

Why the campaign? We’ve been patient, waited months indoors, and finally COVID-19 restrictions are easing again on Monday 17th May. The new government Roadmap Step 3 in England, gives us more freedom to see our friends and families, once again. For some, it means starting new romantic relationships – and all the fun and frolics that entails, like having sex.

Sarah Macadam, CEO of local patient advocacy group, Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS), explains: “We are delighted to support Safe Sex Berkshire in its quest to help educate local people about the benefits of HIV testing and the specific treatments – PrEP and PEP – that help protect against HIV infection. The website  offers a wealth of HIV and treatment information, plus lots of advice and information on other sexual health issues.”

Through the website, people in Berkshire can learn how best to protect themselves against HIV infection by using the anti-HIV preventative treatments, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) or PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis). Information on how to access Berkshire’s NHS Sexual Health Clinics to learn more about PrEP and PEP is available on the website. People can also learn how best to protect themselves against HIV infection, organise an HIV self-test or book a confidential appointment at the Clinic to talk openly about their sexual health. HIV testing and anti-HIV preventative treatments PrEP and PEP are available for free and prescriptions are given free-of-charge.

Anti-HIV medication: PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) are two anti-HIV medcines that are proven clinically to help prevent HIV infection, in people who are HIV negative. PrEP  is a medicine people at risk for HIV take to protect themselves from getting HIV. PEP is taken after unprotected sex in cases where people may have been exposed, potentially or unknowingly, to HIV infection, perhaps by having unprotected sex or if a condom breaks during sex.

Many people living in self-isolation over the last year will be looking forward to enjoying sex after lockdown.

“With COVID-19 restrictions easing, we need to avoid - as far as possible - any increase in the number of people presenting with HIV and other STIs. We therefore encourage people to take steps to protect themselves by wearing a condom during sex – or consider self-testing for HIV and other STIs if they’ve been put at risk,” advises Dr Jonas Thompson-McCormick, Consultant in Public Health, Public Health Services for Berkshire.

In explaining about the preventative (prophylactic) treatments for HIV, Dr Thompson-McCormick states: “Regardless of your background, or sexual orientation, please do consider using the treatments, PrEP and PEP, which are proven clinically to help pevent against HIV. PrEP is a medicine people at risk for HIV take to protect themselves from getting HIV. Whilst PEP is taken after unprotected sex in cases where people may have been potentially or unknowingly exposed to HIV infection, perhaps by having unprotected sex or if a condom breaks during sex.

People can contact Berkshire’s NHS Sexual Health Clinics who can support people considering treatments, which are available free, on prescription. I’d encourage people to visit the Safe Sex Berkshire website at https://www.safesexberkshire.nhs.uk.”

Why focus on just HIV? Protecting against other STIs (such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea) are important, however there's currently no cure for HIV, which is why people should take precautions by wearing a condom or using PrEP (or PEP). There are very effective anti HIV treatments (antiretroviral therapies) that enable most people with the HIV virus to live a long and healthy life. Sometimes people may not be diagnosed for a long time after contracting HIV and left untreated.

Berkshire is focusing on HIV testing and prevention, in line with the National HIV Prevention Campaign by Public Health England (PHE). With people getting back to their ‘own normal’, Berkshire Public Health has updated the website  https://www.safesexberkshire.nhs.uk with the guidance on HIV and preventative treatments to help reduce HIV infections:

  1. Check your HIV status: regardless of your background or sexual preferences, remember that HIV doesn’t discriminate. You may have had unprotected sex with several partners, or just the once and found that the condom broke. HIV tests can be ordered and booked via https://www.safesexberkshire.nhs.uk – self-test kits ordered for delivery to a preferred address or confidential appointments booked directly at local NHS Sexual Health Clinics
  2. Wear a condom or ensure your partner does too during all sexual relations and encounters; condoms not only protect against HIV and other STIs but unplanned pregnancies also
  3. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a medicine people at risk for HIV take to protect themselves from getting HIV.– but it won’t protect against other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections), so another sound reason for always wearing a condom
  4. PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) is an after-sex emergency treatment to take if you’ve potentially been exposed to HIV after having unprotected sex. You’ll need to take the anti-HIV medicines for 28-days. The sooner PEP is started after exposure to HIV the better. It is most effective when started within 24 hours, but it needs to be started within 72 hours. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that PEP won't work. PEP is available at NHS Sexual Health Clinics or from hospital Accident & Emergency departments when sexual health clinics are closed
  5. Important: NHS sexual health services are free and both PrEP and PEP are available free on prescription.

Accessing Berkshire NHS Sexual Health Clinics: Treatment and advice is free and confidential, so no one need fear getting in touch says Dr Thompson-McCormick. “Our NHS Sexual Health Clinics are staffed by highly experienced healthcare professionals who don’t judge anyone’s sexual behaviour or preference. Their priority is educating people on safe sex and empowering everyone to take responsibility for their sexual health – and that also means keeping partners we have sex with, safe and well.”

If you need medical help and are unsure what to do, call NHS 111 for help and advice. They are available 24 hours a day.