In the lead up to Mardi Gras, a retro caravan will today pop up at The Hub in Newtown, serving free mocktails and encouraging young gay men to get an HIV test, following the success of a similar test site at Darlinghurst last year.
The initiative – a partnership between NSW Health, Sydney Local Health District, Sydney RPA Sexual Health, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and ACON – is in response to figures that show a steady increase in the number of young men (aged 18-24) newly diagnosed with HIV infection in NSW (2009 to 2012).
Since 2009, there has been a steady year on year increase in the number of men aged 18-24 who were newly diagnosed with HIV infection in NSW. In 2012 there was a 65% increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed with HIV infection in NSW, compared with 2009.
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. Outreach activities like this pop up are one of the ways we are starting conversations with younger people,” Dr Chant said.
Actor, musician and ACON supporter Brendan Maclean says in many ways, the future of the HIV epidemic is in the hands of young gay men.
“After 30 years of dealing with HIV, it’s amazing that advances in HIV medicines and testing technologies have delivered the tools we need to finally end HIV transmission in NSW,” Mr Mclean said.
“Its history in the making and young gay men can be part of it by testing more regularly for HIV.
Associate Professor Catherine O’Connor , Director Royal Prince Alfred Sexual Health said early diagnosis was critical to timely treatment.
“With rapid HIV testing now available in 19 locations throughout Sydney, including right here in Newtown, guys can now get on the spot results in less than 30 minutes. And if they do test positive, new HIV treatments make living with the virus much easier than it used to be”, A/Professor O’Connor said.
Professor de Wit from the Centre for Social Research in Health at University of NSW said that around one in three young gay men reported unprotected sex with casual partners, which is up from around one in four a decade ago. At the same time, young gay men are less knowledgeable about HIV than older gay men, they are less likely to be reached by HIV prevention campaigns, and they test less often for HIV.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill says strengthening ACON’s engagement with young gay men is a key strategy for ending HIV transmission in NSW by 2020.
“One of our key objectives is to get young gay men to test more, treat early and stay safe,” Mr Parkhill says.
“Increasing testing rates among young gay men is vital, because HIV is generally transmitted by people who don’t know they have it. Once people know their status, they can take action to improve their health outcomes and prevent passing on the virus. And the only way they can know their status is to get tested regularly, at least twice a year.
“We’re focused on communicating this message to young gay men in NSW through initiatives like our current Test More education campaign.
The Newtown pop up, which aims to promote the ease and importance of HIV testing to young gay men, will operate in The Hub, Newtown from this evening until Thursday 27th February. The pop up will be referring people to a[TEST] Newtown on King St which will be open extended hours to provide on the spot HIV and STI testing services while the pop up is there.
Testing site hours of operation
Tue 25th February to Thursday 27th February 4 to 7pm
Further information about HIV testing and the NSW HIV Strategy 2012-2015 can be found at www.health.nsw.gov.au/endinghiv
Information about ACON can be found at http://www.acon.org.au/