Sara Bell from the University of Queensland discusses on-line HIV self-testing kits.
As a means of encouraging more Australians to get tested for HIV and increase testing frequency, providing access to self-testing kits is a convenient step in the right direction. However, self-testing in not currently available in Australia. It has been proven that the demand is there, with data showing Australians are already conducting internet searches seeking self-test kits from overseas. While this shows a willingness to self-test, caution must be taken as seeking kits from unknown sources presents a certain level of risk, with the possibility of overseas test kits being substandard.
Sara and her team conducted a pilot in Queensland, with the aim of assessing whether an integrated HIV self-testing service delivery model would be accepted and how feasible the service would be in a peer-led Queensland community setting. A particular target population included men who have sex with men (MSM) living in regional, remote or rural areas.
630 test kits were ordered, including 87 from non-Queensland locations. Although eligibility was such that the participant was required to live in Queensland, data showed that there is a demand nationally.
An important finding showed 32% of MSM and bisexual males in Queensland reported never being tested for HIV. While we know there are many reasons why people choose not to engage with health care providers, what we do know is that while HIV related stigma and discrimination continues to exist, the chance of a person stepping forward for testing is decreased. Therefore, self-testing kits may break this barrier due to convenience self-test kits provide.
The interest shown in this pilot demonstrates that this form of on-line technology is indeed effective in increasing HIV testing among key populations such as MSM and bisexual males. It also shows that advertising on social media, dating apps and other websites is an effective platform to engage hard to reach populations.
This project aligns well with the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target and will be one to follow in the future.