WHY HIV TEST­ING?

It’s now eas­ier than ever to make HIV test­ing part of your sex­ual health regime.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #227 -

THE FIRST time 27-year-old Tony Nhan had an HIV test it was un­der a cloud of ap­pre­hen­sion and dread.

“I was 22 when I first had my HIV test and I re­mem­ber feel­ing very ner­vous,” Tony tells DNA. “I was liv­ing in Western Syd­ney, and first had to talk to a GP about it, which was awk­ward. I was then re­ferred to a clinic in a hos­pi­tal and I re­mem­ber hav­ing to wait and wait. Then, I had to sched­ule an­other ap­point­ment to come back to be in­formed of the re­sults. It was all very daunt­ing.

“But it was im­por­tant for me to get tested and find out my HIV sta­tus. As time went by, it got eas­ier. More re­cently, I’ve been us­ing a[TEST], which is staffed by peer work­ers and of­fers free, rapid HIV test­ing.”

Tony even­tu­ally par­tic­i­pated in the EPICNSW PrEP trial and, as part of the study, had to get tested ev­ery three months. Such has been the ease and con­ve­nience of test­ing that he has now made it as part of his sex­ual health rou­tine.

“These days, I get tested at least four times a year. I just make an ap­point­ment on­line, pop into a sex­ual health cen­tre or ACON’s a[TEST], get tested with no judge­ment, and have my re­sults back much quicker than be­fore.”

As we mark the 30th an­niver­sary of World AIDS Day, which in 2018 is themed Know Your Sta­tus, Aus­tralia’s largest HIV pre­ven­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion ACON is re­mind­ing gay men and other men who have sex with men about the im­por­tance of reg­u­lar HIV test­ing.

“HIV test­ing has been a pil­lar of Aus­tralia’s HIV re­sponse – it lies at the heart of our HIV pre­ven­tion ac­tiv­i­ties,” says ACON CEO Ni­co­las Parkhill. “Our com­mu­ni­ties have been test­ing for decades so it’s a big part who we are. It’s what we do to look after our own health and the health of our part­ners.”

Re­cent data from New South Wales Health shows that be­tween April and June 2018, there was a 27 per cent drop in newly di­ag­nosed HIV cases in NSW. The longer-term trend is also very en­cour­ag­ing with de­creases since 2014. The re­port also shows that test­ing rates con­tinue to reach record highs, with a six per cent in­crease in the num­ber of HIV tests com­pared with the same pe­riod last year.

“NSW is cur­rently see­ing the low­est rates of HIV trans­mis­sion on record but to main­tain the mo­men­tum, we need gay and bi­sex­ual men to con­tinue get­ting tested fre­quently for HIV and STIs,” Parkhill says.

“But, while we are see­ing record lev­els of test­ing, there are still a num­ber of guys be­ing di­ag­nosed late. This means that many cases of HIV trans­mis­sions are from peo­ple who are un­aware they are HIV-pos­i­tive. The more guys know about their HIV sta­tus, the quicker they can ac­cess treat­ment, im­prove their health and re­duce the risk of pass­ing the virus on.”

There are now more ways than ever to ac­cess an HIV test in NSW in­clud­ing sex­ual health clin­ics, GPs and com­mu­nity-based test­ing ser­vices such as ACON’s a[TEST] fa­cil­i­ties. Peo­ple can also opt to get tested re­motely by us­ing NSW Health’s Dried Blood Spot test­ing ser­vice, which al­lows users to col­lect a fin­ger-prick sam­ple of blood in the com­fort of their own home and have it sent by mail for lab­o­ra­tory test­ing.

“With a broad range of op­tions, it’s easy to adopt HIV test­ing into your sex­ual health rou­tine. It’s rec­om­mended that ev­ery­one should test for HIV at least twice a year, or more if you have mul­ti­ple part­ners,” Parkhill says.

“As we ap­proach World AIDS Day, ACON thanks gay men for their com­mit­ment to end­ing HIV by test­ing more fre­quently,” adds Parkhill. “We’re en­cour­ag­ing other gay men in NSW to book a test or to drop into any one of our test­ing sites across NSW, be­cause these days it’s never been eas­ier to get tested.”

Tony hopes that by shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence, he can help change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions and that oth­ers will fol­low suit. “We need to re­duce stigma by mak­ing test­ing a nor­mal part of ev­ery­day life and not sham­ing oth­ers,” he says. “Talk to your friends and part­ners about test­ing. It’s im­por­tant to know your sex­ual health sta­tus to look after your own health and the health of your part­ners.”

Many cases of HIV trans­mis­sions are from peo­ple who are un­aware they are HIV-pos­i­tive.

Tony Nhan: “I get tested at least four times a year.”

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