NEW initiatives to fight the ongoing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS and testing for the virus were announced by the HIV Foundation Queensland (HIVFQ) yesterday.

In a move that has been described as an “essential” addition to raising awareness and increasing the amount of testing, HIVFQ will launch a dedicated rapid HIV testing facility in the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley district.

“Today we reaffirmed our commitment to increasing access to testing by announcing a new peer-based rapid testing facility to open in Fortitude Valley by end July,” HIVFQ chief executive Tony Majer said.

“This facility will offer a confidential peer-based environment, which is something the foundation recognised as essential if we are to reach those who would not otherwise go to a GP or sexual health clinic for a test.”

Majer said that the new clinic would provide people with a far less intimidating environment that hospitals and other medical centres can present.

“The formal setting of a medical centre or health clinic can be intimidating. Add to this the difficulty some face in accessing a testing service during work hours and you begin to see barriers to testing,” he said.

“Our new facility will be staffed by fully-trained peer educators in a more casual setting. We know from experience elsewhere that this can assist greatly in reaching gay men and other men who have sex with men who have not been tested before or avoid testing regularly.”

The foundation’s launch was joined by Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, who said the new clinic was an important milestone for HIVFQ and the fight against HIV and AIDS in the state.

“The foundation has further demonstrated its commitment to increasing access to HIV testing today by announcing [a new peer-based rapid testing],” Springborg said.

“I applaud the milestones achieved by the foundation so far and I look forward to seeing the rollout of many more great initiatives aimed at putting an end to HIV in Queensland.”

HIVFQ also launched several films featuring true stories from the LGBTI and wider community, aimed at combating stigma facing people living with HIV (scroll down to watch the short films). The campaign, which was produced by MediaCom, will also focus on dispelling several myths about HIV and AIDS that still persist.

“These powerful videos follow the journeys of people living with HIV and aim to inspire others to get tested for HIV and encourage prevention to reduce transmissions,” Majer said.

“The videos also aim to dispel myths associated with HIV and address stigma that exists within the community.”

The animated video refers to some of the misconceptions that exist in the LGBTI and general community about HIV and how it is and isn’t transmitted.

Springborg said the new clinic and films were the second stage of HIVFQ’s successful E.N.D. H.I.V. campaign and will be rolled out across Queensland media soon.

“Lack of understanding and awareness about HIV can lead to stigma and can shape how people view those who live with HIV,” he said.

“We want to put an end to the stigma so Queenslanders feel comfortable accessing testing services and seeking treatment for HIV.”

HIVFQ’s new clinic is the latest rapid HIV testing initiative in the state following the Queensland AIDS Council’s (QuAC) introduction of their Testing Point clinic last year.

Majer said that the foundation was open to working with everyone committed to fighting the spread of HIV and that a group effort was necessary.

“The foundation has a charter of addressing HIV from a whole-of-population angle and of course we know that an important part of that is the [men who have sex with men] community,” Majer told the Star Observer.

“We welcome input from community groups. We don’t come up with good campaigns like we’ve seen today but us just sitting around in an office. We’re here to listen to people and really respond.”

Also relocating to the new clinic will be the foundation’s Community HIV Education and Prevention Program (CHEPP) officers.

“Having an outreach base in the heart of the Valley will allow us to build on and expand the outreach projects conducted by the CHEPP,” Majer said.

The new clinic will be a free service located out of the HIVFQ’s new home on the corner of Ann and Winn streets at Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. Its prime location will provide exposure to the service by “millions of passing cars and foot traffic every year”, Majer said.

Testing will be available from 4-8pm most weekdays as well as Saturdays. People will be required to bring their Medicare cards and access to the clinic is via a laneway entrance on Winn St.

For more information, visit endhiv.qld.gov.au.

(Main image: L-R – HIVFQ chief exective Tony Majer, Queensland Positive People Peer Support and Communications Officer Jesse Hooper and Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg at the launch yesterday. PHOTO: David Alexander; Star Observer)

Watch the HIV Foundation Queensland new short films:

 

 

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