A UNSW study has found HIV testing by gay and bisexual men in Melbourne continues to increase, with nearly three-quarters saying they have tested for HIV in the previous year and one in six indicating they have had three or more tests in the previous year. “Although this is a good result for testing, it is very important that we continue our efforts to encourage gay men to test every three months to maintain their sexual health,” said Simon Ruth, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC).
These findings come from the latest round of the Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey, published by the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Australia. Over 3,000 gay and bisexual men took part in the 2015 survey, recruited from gay venues and events in Melbourne, as well as through online networks. The survey provides vital information about sex, relationships, HIV and the use of health services.
The main transmission route for HIV remains anal sex without condoms. Men in Melbourne continue to report quite high levels of casual sex without condoms – 39% of men who have casual sex say they have had sex without condoms at least once (or one in five of all men in the survey), and this proportion has increased gradually over time. HIV-negative men have become increasingly likely to report ‘serosorting’ – limiting sex without condoms to men who they believe are HIV-negative. Associate Professor Martin Holt, lead investigator of the surveys comments, “Unfortunately, some of these men may have HIV and not know it, increasing the chance of new infections. Before they consider relying on serosorting, HIV-negative men should start to test for HIV three or four times a year. I’d also like to see them have some other options available, like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).”
PrEP involves taking antiretroviral drugs daily to prevent HIV infection. It is available to a limited degree in Melbourne through the VICPrEP study, based at the Alfred Hospital, and the 2015 survey shows that 38% of men in Melbourne believe that PrEP is available now. The Centre for Social Research in Health, VAC and Living Positive Victoria are advocating for greater access to this HIV prevention technology. “The demand for PrEP within the gay community is growing,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “The sooner PrEP is approved for use in Australia, the sooner we can see this highly effective HIV prevention strategy start to play a role in the lives of gay men in Melbourne as well as across the rest of the country.”
Brent Allan, Chief Executive Officer, Living Positive Victoria added, “This year’s survey gives us special insight into the lives of HIV-positive men in Melbourne. It is really good to see that the number of HIV-positive guys who are getting on to treatment is continuing to grow over time. Also, the significant increase in disclosure of HIV status between consenting individuals, both HIV-negative and HIV-positive, is consistent with the work being done in Victoria challenging HIV stigma and increasing knowledge around the variety of ways gay guys can decrease their risks around HIV, including PrEP.”
The Gay Community Periodic Surveys are conducted by the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Australia, in collaboration with The Kirby Institute, community organisations and state health departments. The results are used to guide HIV and sexual health programs for gay and bisexual men. VAC coordinated local recruitment for the 2015 Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey, which was funded by the Victorian Department of Health.
Associate Professor Martin Holt, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Australia
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Caleb Hawk, Communications Coordinator, Victorian AIDS Council
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Daniel Brace, Communications Coordinator, Living Positive Victoria
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