Pronto launchPronto, Melbourne’s much-anticipated HIV rapid testing service, was launched by the Victorian AIDS Council and Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GMHC) and the Burnet Institute last week.

Located on Rose St in Fitzroy, the service provides free 30-minute HIV tests for gay men and other men who have sex with men, making it easier for people to learn their HIV status and hopefully encourage increased testing across the state.

Politicians and members of the city’s LGBTI community organisations turned out in force for the launch, hosted by the deputy director of public health research and education organisation the Burnet Institute, David Anderson.

Victorian Minister for Health and key architect of the service David Davis said other states would be looking to Pronto as a model.

“It will be an outcome of national significance, and I know that other Ministers in other departments around the states are actually watching very closely the steps that we’re taking now, and I certainly welcome their focus. If we can take a leadership role like that as a partnership, that is a great outcome for our community,” Davis said.

“All of us are working towards a Victoria where people know their HIV status, and have access to the support and treatment that they choose, and in my view, deserve. This site is one of the components of that.”

Victorian MP for Prahran Clem Newton-Brown echoed Davis’ comments:

“I think it really is something that’s going to make a huge difference to people’s lives individually, and also to public health in Victoria in a broader sense.”

Head of HIV research at the Burnet Institute Mark Stoové explained the collaboration between his institute, VAC/GMHC and the Victorian Department of Health had looked to programs like San Francisco’s lauded Magnet community centre in the United States as an example, providing impetus for action here.

“I have to admit that his announcement in January at the Midsumma carnival that committed the government to establishing Pronto by the middle of the year did put the pressure on and freaked me out a little bit,” Stoové admitted, but said it had helped make Pronto a reality.

VAC/GMHC Executive Director Matt Dixon emphasised the community focus of the centre as a service run “by gay men for gay men,” and said the public health outcomes of Pronto should be regarded in the long term.

“One thing to remember is that we’re expecting to see an increase of HIV notifications with the opening of Pronto, so that’s another thing that we all need to be aware of and be ready for, and see as part of the success of the response to HIV in Victoria,” said Dixon, explaining the service would hopefully result in the identification of undiagnosed HIV-positive people in Victoria.

“We’re probably going to see an increase in the short to medium term, and then hopefully tailing off if all goes as planned.”

The roll-out of the service follows several months of commercially available rapid HIV testing at a small number of Melbourne clinics, but this marks the first time free, community-based rapid testing has been available in Victoria.

Visit pronto.org.au for more information on the service or to book an appointment.

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