Study finds young gay men are avoiding testing for HIV
A new report by the Kirby Institute has revealed one third of gay men aged between 18-24 have never been tested for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections despite the fact that HIV infections were on the rise within this age group and incidents of unprotected sex had increased.
The report discovered few infections occurred between regular sexual partners, but rather HIV was far more likely to be transmitted via casual sex. The report suggested there needed to be further emphasis on the need to make HIV testing more accessible, particularly to at-risk populations, and improved early access to HIV treatments, while maintaining current levels of harm minimisation through HIV prevention targeting at-risk populations.
Between 2009 and 2012 there was a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged between 18-24 who had been newly diagnosed with HIV. In 2012, 33 new notifications in young men were reported compared to 20 in 2009.
NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said that the steady increase shows the need to engage young men in regular testing and safe sex practises.
“Across the HIV sector we are doing things differently,” said Chant. She suggested pop-up testing sites were one way to start conversations with younger gay men, as were peer testing services.
Health professionals agreed, saying the spike in infections has highlighted the need for increased testing and they have urged young members of the gay community to take advantage of new rapid HIV testing services.
''There is still this legacy perception that it takes two weeks to get test results and that testing positive is a death sentence,'' said Chant. ''With treatment, life expectancy is very good.''
There are currently 19 sites in NSW offering rapid HIV testing. The test involves a simple finger prick and results can be delivered within half an hour.
ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill said taking testing to the community is a first step towards encouraging more men to get tested.
''It's important that we take testing out of the clinical space and put it into the community space,'' he said. ''Up until 12 months ago you had to see your GP, take a test and go back in a week for the result. Now you can come in [to a rapid testing site] and get the results in 30 minutes.''