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