Over 42,000 HIV tests have been administered at ACON’s a[TEST] network since it was established five years ago. In that time, it has been visited by over 29,000 clients, making it one of the most popular HIV testing facilities in NSW.
Findings from a report into a[TEST] also revealed that while a[TEST] accounted for an estimated 1.3% of all HIV tests in NSW between 2015-2019, it detected 13.4% of all HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men.
The report – Evaluation of ACON’s community-based a[TEST] HIV and STI testing services 2015-2019 – has been published by The Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney and ACON. It assesses the characteristics of clients who use the service as well as the reach of a[TEST] in target populations. The report also evaluates the impact of a[TEST] on HIV prevention in NSW.
Established in 2015, a[TEST] is a peer-led rapid HIV testing and STI screening service for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in NSW. Currently, due to COVID-19, a[TEST] is only operating from its Oxford Street premises in Darlinghurst. However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a[TEST] sites were also operating in Surry Hills, Kings Cross and Newtown. Additionally, tailored a[TEST] services for available for clients from Chinese backgrounds (a[TEST] Chinese Clinic) and trans men (trans[TEST]). Due to the pandemic, these other services are currently suspended.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the high number of HIV tests demonstrates the role a[TEST] has played in getting gay and bisexual men to test more often.
“NSW Ministry of Health data consistently shows that not only are we seeing a sustained decline in HIV notifications, but HIV testing continues to increase in NSW,” Mr Parkhill said. “The fact that a[TEST] has performed over 42,000 tests since it was established shows the extraordinary demand in our communities for this service.
“Our communities know that testing often is an important part of on staying in top of your sexual health. We see lots of return visitors to a[TEST] as we know men appreciate the high quality, easy and convenient service we offer with our partners.”
The evaluation report also found that more than half of clients (56.8%) were born overseas. Additionally, it also showed that approximately one-tenth of a[TEST] clients had never been previously tested for HIV.
“We know that, in the past few years, while HIV notifications in NSW have been declining overall, we were not seeing this decline across the board, particularly among gay and bisexual men born overseas,” Parkhill said. “That a[TEST] continues to have high reach and engagement with this population group is important to our HIV prevention efforts.”
Dr Benjamin Bavinton, Senior Research Fellow with the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at The Kirby Institute said: “The a[TEST] Evaluation Report provides important and comprehensive insights into the effectiveness, reach and unique role that the service plays in NSW’s HIV response. The information from this report will help to inform programs and services with shared goals of virtually eliminating transmissions in NSW and providing support for people living with HIV.”
Parkhill said while HIV testing rates have declined during the pandemic because of reduced casual sex activity, reallocation of health resources and altered health seeking behaviour, now is a good time to get a sexual health screen.
“With restrictions easing and summer approaching, we’re encouraging men in our communities to visit a[TEST] – knowing your status is important. The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can take steps to take care of your health and prevent onward transmission. With a[TEST], it’s easier than ever to get tested for HIV.”
Parkhill acknowledged the many clinical and research partner organisations of a[TEST] for their efforts and contributions.
“The success of a[TEST] would not be possible without the leadership of the NSW Government and NSW Ministry of Health, and our clinical and research partners including Sydney Sexual Health Centre, RPA Sexual Health Centre, the Kirketon Road Centre, the Kirby Institute, Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine, SydPath (NSW State Reference Laboratory for HIV) at St Vincent’s Hospital. We thank them all for their work in caring for our communities and look forward to continuing our strong partnerships.”
“Of course, we thank our clients and community members for taking control of their health, and the health of their partners, by continuing to visit our sites. a[TEST] is for you. It is because of your enthusiasm and engagement that a[TEST] has been a success.”