Expansion appears the obvious next step for the PRONTO! rapid HIV testing service, judging by the huge uptake at the Midsumma Carnival in Melbourne’s Alexandra Gardens on Sunday.
It was the first time rapid HIV testing had been offered at a Victorian festival or public event and, according to Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) spokesman, Kent Burgess, interest was strong.
“Even before the Carnival officially opened this morning, as we were setting up, we had people approach us,” said Mr Burgess, the VAC’s Director of Services.
“There’s been very good publicity and a very good response from the community; so good that we’ve filled all of our appointments today that we have available.
“The feedback we’re getting is that very few of these people have done a rapid test before, which is interesting, and a lot of them had not heard of the PRONTO! service before.
“A lot of people are telling us they test regularly with their GP, but have never done PRONTO!”
Operating from two mobile testing vans, PRONTO!, a joint initiative of Burnet and the VAC, offered the Midsumma Carnival clients the same peer-managed service available from the PRONTO! clinic in Fitzroy.
The entire process takes just 30 minutes, including a 10-minute turnaround for the rapid HIV test results.
The Head of Burnet’s HIV/STI Research Group in the Centre for Population Health, Associate Professor Mark Stoové, said there were many lessons to be learned from taking PRONTO into the field.
“One of the important things is to demonstrate that you can be in these types of spaces and people find testing comfortable and acceptable in a social environment,” Associate Professor Stoové said.
“A single fixed site in Fitzroy necessarily has only a finite amount of reach. What we now need to think of is how we expand, use the branding of PRONTO! to expand using different outreach models.”
Mr Burgess agreed that expansion of the service into the community makes good sense.
“Together with Burnet we will look at today and the success, do an evaluation, look at the acceptability, but, all being well, the early signs are great,” said Mr Burgess.
“There are some regional festivals coming up like ‘Chill Out’ in Daylesford which might be something we’d have an option to have a presence at.”
The leadoff event for the two-week Midsumma Festival, Sunday’s Carnival attracted an estimated 100,000 revelers to the Alexandra Gardens who enjoyed six hours of free entertainment in fine weather including dance parties and a dog show.
Burnet’s was one of the most popular of the 140 information stalls at the Carnival, and there was no-one busier than GLOVEMAN, the promoter of Burnet’s public health campaign Protect, Prevent, Test which seeks to raise awareness around safe sex while reinforcing the message to test often.