The future of HIV testing in Australia (edited version of HIV Australia paper)
In Australia, men who have sex with men (MSM) account for more than 65 percent of newly diagnosed and 85 percent of newly acquired cases of HIV each year.
Despite high self-reported annual testing rates (around 60 percent) and a reduction in viral loads among those on antiretroviral therapy (ART), Australia has witnessed substantial increases in newly diagnosed HIV infections over the past decade.
So why, despite extensive health promotion activities designed to highlight the importance of HIV testing, are so many men not testing as frequently as recommended??
Burnet PhD student Alisa Pedrana and Centre for Population Health researcher Dr Mark Stoové presented a range of findings from their research into community-based testing in Australia and outlined new strategies to improve access through community-based testing in a paper recently published in HIV Australia (Vol 9, No 3, November 2011).
This rise in new cases has been attributed to factors including moderate increases in sexual risk behaviours among gay men and dramatic increases in other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia, which are known to increase HIV transmission risk.
Regular HIV testing is one of the key HIV prevention strategies for gay and homosexually active men in Australia.
Although annual Australian HIV testing rates among MSM are generally considered to be high, national behavioural data and a recent national online survey of 3,456 MSM paint a different picture:
- Only about 20 per cent of men deemed to be in the ‘high-risk’ category tested regularly for HIV
- 20 per cent of the men surveyed reported two or more HIV tests per year
- Between 6-24 per cent said that they had never been tested
- Non-adherence to the recommended HIV testing guidelines among many gay and other MSM is also concerning
Structural, personal and policy barriers to frequent HIV testing are commonly reported such as:
- Not knowing where to get tested
- Difficulties in getting an appointment
- Difficulties finding a gay-friendly doctor
- The need to return for a test result
With the rest of the world making progress in further reducing barriers to testing and providing greater access to health services, can Australia afford to be left behind?
**To download the entire HIV Australia paper CLICK HERE**