with ADAM HYNES   VAC/GMHC Rapid HIV Testing

At this year’s Midsumma Carnival Health Minsiter David Davis announced that Melbourne will be the first city to run a standalone rapid HIV test project. This news comes on the back of the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s recent approval of a rapid HIV testing device. This news has been welcomed by many within the community. Individuals, groups and organisations alike see this as a key step forward in being able to curb HIV transmission rates.

Rapid HIV tests have been used in developed and developing countries around the world for years.

The tests, either an oral mouth swab or a finger prick, provide a quick and less invasive method of identifying whether someone is HIV positive.

As the test result can be returned within 20-30 minutes rapid HIV testing removes some of the barriers to accessing traditional HIV testing, such as time spent at the doctors, the costs associated with attending the GP clinic and the number of times you have to go to get tested. For example, a sexually active gay male may have to attend a GP clinic up to eight times a year for HIV and sexual health checkups and results alone.

The introduction of a rapid HIV project will make HIV testing easier and more convenient. Based upon research from overseas, rapid HIV testing provides an avenue through which people who have never tested before and people who do not test as often as they should, increase their testing patters both of which help reduce onward HIV transmission.

The exact details of the rapid HIV testing project have not yet been decided upon, however the aim is to have the service up and running by July this year. This project is a collaboration between The Victorian Department of Health, the Burnet Institute and the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GMHC). VAC/GMHC hopes that the standalone shop front will be lead by peer workers and overseen by an experienced HIV and sexual health nurse. The use of peer workers will help create an environment in which gay and bisexual men feel welcome and relaxed about having an HIV test. The location of the project will be based upon data from HIV prevalence and sexual health testing rates in conjunction with community consultation research. These will determine which area would be best positioned to assist those most at risk of unknowingly contracting and then transmitting HIV.

The introduction of rapid HIV testing into Australian settings is very important and the benefits cannot be underestimated. The Melbourne rapid HIV testing project will be a very welcome, additional method through which we can help reduce HIV transmission rates. Stay tuned for more details and check out www.vicaids.asn.au/news for more information about the project.

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