HIV testing just became a lot easier for the Gold Coast HIV Foundation Queensland (HIVFQ) and Queensland Positive People opened the doors to its latest RAPID clinic.
As Queensland’s second most-populated city after Brisbane, and Australia’s largest non-capital city, the Gold Coast also has the second-highest new HIV notifications in the state— at a rate of 11 per cent according to 2013 Gold Coast Health and Hospital Service data.
[showads ad=MREC]Already responsible for significantly increasing testing rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Brisbane along with other testing services, the people behind RAPID hope to achieve a similar thing for on the Gold Coast.
“On the previous four year average, the Gold Coast has accounted for 11 per cent of new HIV diagnoses in Queensland, at a rate of 4.2 per 100,000,” RAPID’s Jime Lemoire told the Star Observer.
“With efforts to increase testing, we hope to see the rate of new notifications drop over time on the Gold Coast.”
A drastic increase in the proportion of Queensland men using mobile apps and the internet to meet other men for sex, from 26.2 per cent to 44.5 per cent from 2011 to 2014, meant RAPID had to adapt to raise awareness of testing.
“RAPID recruits through these sexual networking sites to target sexually active MSM disconnected from community and/or health promotion messages, and in particular those who delay testing due to discomfort discussing risk behaviour,” Lemoire said.
“We advertise a non-invasive model of testing where clients are invited to ask questions about HIV or the window period, but they do not need to provide details about their sexual or injecting history.”
Not requiring a detailed breakdown of a client’s sexual history is one of several methods RAPID uses to help break down stigma that still exists around testing, let alone HIV itself.
“We use health promotion profiles on eight different sexual networking sites that are geo-targeted to Brisbane and the Gold Coast,” Lemoire said.
“Peers engage with men online and normalise testing and encourage them to attend a sexual health clinic, community GP or RAPID.”
Period health surveys targeting gay men and MSM in recent years has shown a steady increase in awareness of PEP and PrEP, but RAPID wants to further improve awareness.
“In 2014, 55.6 per cent of men reported knowing about PEP, and our Peer Education and Testing Officers want to increase that percentage dramatically,” Lemoire said.
“We discuss PEP during each RAPID consultation, as well as PrEP. We are encouraging all our clients to discuss PrEP with their friends.
“Increasing the knowledge of PEP and PrEP is absolutely vital to contemporary HIV prevention efforts, especially since the proportion of men reporting condomless sex has increased over time according to the 2014 Queensland Gay Community Periodic Survey.”
For Lemoire, the opening of a new RAPID clinic on the Gold Coast will help to improve the overall health of the community.
“I would say we are at a crossroad in the history of HIV: with advancement in treatment as prevention, we have the opportunity to improve the health of people living with HIV and dramatically reduce the number of new notifications in the community,” he said.
“Everyone who is sexually-active should get tested frequently because an early diagnosis improves your health outcomes, and each individual test contributes to the movement that will virtually eliminate the sexual transmission of HIV in Queensland.”
RAPID Gold Coast is located at 12/89-99 West Burleigh Rd, Burleigh Heads and is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 2pm-7pm. For details, visit www.rapid.org.au[showads ad=FOOT]