New South Wales, News

Migrant men left behind in ‘extraordinary’ HIV testing improvements

New data for New South Wales shows that men at higher risk of HIV are being tested twice as often as they were in 2010, but migrants are among groups who have not seen the same improvements.

Dr Phillip Keen of the Kirby Institute presented the research at the virtual 23rd International AIDS Conference.

Multiple strategies to increase demand and capacity for testing have led to an “extraordinary scale-up” of HIV testing for gay and bisexual men, he said.

Gay and bisexual men represent 80% of new diagnoses in New South Wales.

Fewer than 3% of Australian-born gay and bisexual men are now thought to have undiagnosed HIV, but this is six times higher in men who were born overseas.

Key points in the New South Wales state government’s most recent HIV initiatives have included service reforms such as peer-led and community-based testing, and new kinds of testing such as rapid tests and test kits that can be done at home.

General practitioners have also received increased training in HIV testing.

Health promotion messages by groups including LGBTIQ health organisation ACON have diversified in recent years to promote testing across the community.

Guidelines recommend sexually active people have an HIV test and sexual health screen at least annually, with those at higher risk recommended to test more often, such as quarterly for those with many sexual partners.

Dr Keen’s research found that over 43,000 gay and bisexual men took more than 3.5 million HIV tests in New South Wales between 2010 and 2018, with numbers of tests increasing over time.

Men born overseas are testing less frequently than their Australian-born counterparts.

However, migrant men are also taking up HIV treatment and PrEP in greater numbers.

Dr Keen said that initiatives were needed to tackle the health disparities and barriers to HIV testing facing migrant men.

“While the overall impact of current strategies was highly positive in increasing testing and reducing new diagnoses amongst [gay and bisexual men], these benefits were not shared equally,” he said.

“Findings indicated that if this overall pattern is to continue successfully, there was a need to focus on reaching overseas-born gay and bisexual men.”

Dr Keen recommended that barriers to PrEP and home testing were among the issues needing to be addressed.

New cases of HIV are declining in Australia, with only 937 diagnosed last year.

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