People came together at the Guildhall in Northampton to mark World Aids Day 2013 and lit candles to remember those who have died and to promote safe sex and HIV testing.
There are currently more than 700 people living with HIV in Northamptonshire.
The event, which was hosted by Northampton Council, was attended by representatives from Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT), local HIV support charity Solar Northamptonshire and local gay community and events group and FAN Northants.
It followed a week-long campaign to promote National HIV Testing Week via local newspapers and radio, outreach events, and through NHFT’s facebook, twitter and partner websites.
Cllr David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Council, said: “There is no excuse to stigmatise sufferers of HIV and Aids. Many of us will know of someone who has been affected by the viruses. So as a town we will be showing our support for those who suffer, their friends, family and loved ones while helping to raise awareness of the groups helping to find a cure.”
Wendi Jarrett, who chairs Solar, said: “We provide support to people who are living with and affected by HIV in Northamptonshire. We also aim to reduce the transmission of HIV by encouraging early and regular testing. As a group where people can meet other people affected by HIV, we can also help reduce the stigma and isolation often felt by people living with HIV.”
Dr Mohammed Ghanem, consultant in Sexual Health for NHFT, the main provider of sexual health services in Northamptonshire, said: “It is essential that people look after all aspects of their health, and sexual health is no exception.
“Both partners should always get a HIV test before starting a new sexual relationship. Don’t forget, the easiest and most effective way to protect yourself from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is to use a condom during sex.”
People can significantly reduce their risk of getting HIV by getting screened regularly if they are in one of the higher risk groups. Men who have sex with men should have an HIV and STI screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners; people from the black African communities should have an HIV test, and a regular HIV and STI screen if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners. People should always use a condom correctly and consistently when having sex, until all partners have had a sexual health screen and avoid overlapping sexual relationships as well as reducing the number of sexual partners.
Further details about HIV testing availablity in Northamptonshire and support for those living with HIV, is available at www.nhft.nhs.uk/hiv