On the 21st of March and as part of LASS' 30th birthday celebrations, the Leicester LGBT Centre was invited to a training session with other LASS' partner organisations to learn and discuss the role of community HIV testing in encouraging people to know their HIV status and to help reduce late diagnosis.
As part of the event, HRH Prince Harry met LASS staff, volunteers, service users, representatives and partners. He toured the building, following in the footsteps of his mother HRH Princess Diana who visited in 1991. He joined the training sessions and unveiled a plaque marking the LASS' 30th anniversary as well as serving and eating with service users in the LASS drop in cafe.
We have interviewed our representative at the event, the Leicester LGBT Centre Finance Manager, Judy Fallon:
How was the event?
It was a pleasure to be able to attend the event. Thank you to all at LASS who made it a really special, well organised occasion. I was part of a number of partner organisations who took part in a training session under the theme 'Where the Journey Begins: Key challenges in Community HIV Rapid Testing session.' After a little introduction, we had a look at the key challenges and some statistics in relation to HIV in the UK, like, for example, according to the Public Heatlh England: HIV in the UK 2016 report, there were over 100,000 people (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) living with HIV in 2015.
And the challenges?
Well, among others, the stigma and discrimination, as well as the late diagnosis, which implies that the virus might have already begun to damage the immune system.
Then you moved on to the workshops, what did they involve?
Well, because there were different partner organisations on each table, it enabled us to think how we can work together within our own skill sets within our organisation and it was really powerful. Each table had a case study and a discussion took place around what each organisation would do in response to that case study.
During the workshop HRH Prince Harry joined you... What did you discuss with him?
When the Prince came, he joined the training session and sat at each table and talked about the case studies and the fact that his visit was to help raise awareness of such important issues. He was very well informed and passionate about what LASS is doing
What did you learn from the training session that we can use at the Leicester LGBT Centre?
The actual training session highlighted the importance of working together with other organisations to tackle HIV and other issues. Some of us did know each other, some others didn’t; so it was about knowing what's out there, how can you get help and share knowledge. It is quite exciting to think what we can do as a number of organisations that you can't achieve with one organisation because of funding cuts and so on. Leicester LGBT Centre have recently become a member of Reaching People, an organisation that runs from the LASS building. They are an excellent example of an organisation working collaboratively with member organisations to achieve good outcomes.
How can we better assist people with HIV?
I think it's about getting the message out to get tested. I think it’s a scary thought for everyone really, but prevention is better than cure. The idea is to prevent HIV, removing the stigma associated with it, because people are too scared to come forward to have an HIV test or some of them are in denial and think that if they ignore it, it will all go away.
How do you think we can get rid off the HIV stigma?
It's education really, and we need to work more closely with LASS and benefit from their knowledge. Something LASS is looking to do on its 30th birthday is to create 30 other testing centres as their legacy. It might be that we could become another testing centre, because people will go to different buildings depending on how they associate with organisations. However, it is not only about the testing, and that’s the important thing, it's about the support before, during and after that test, regardless of the consequences. It can be bad news, but might good news, so it's about an individuals whole lifestyle and the support that’s available for them after having a test. It's also about knowing that medical intervention has come a long way since HRH Princess Diana's visit in 1991. HIV/AIDs is no longer a death sentence and it can be managed with the correct medical treatment allowing a person to lead a long life.