A major UK-wide scheme to notify partners of gay men diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to be piloted from this month. The Sexual Health Messaging Service is developed by GMFA, the gay men’s health charity, in collaboration with seven GU clinics, and the gay dating websites Fitlads, Gaydar, Manhunt and Recon. The scheme is funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and aims to reduce the number of men with undiagnosed STIs, including HIV. Men who are diagnosed with an STI can notify previous sexual partners via an online system, so the partners can get tested and, if necessary, treated. The HPA estimates that over a quarter of gay men with HIV are unaware they have the virus, and its data shows that the number of new STI diagnoses among gay men rose in 2008 and 2009. GMFA’s own research shows that the vast majority of gay men (99.3%) want to be notified by their sexual partner if they get diagnosed with an STI and 97.5% want to be told if their partner gets diagnosed with HIV.
Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes at GMFA, comments: “Many STIs don’t show any symptoms, so lots of men may be infected and not know it. While it’s best to tell men you’ve had sex with if you find out you’ve picked up an STI, making that awkward phone call or sending an email can be difficult. As a result, some men choose not to tell, even though they know they should. We’ve made the process as easy as possible by doing most of the work for you – all you need is a contact for your partners and we’ll take care of the rest.”
With GMFA’s Sexual Health Messaging Service, men are given a unique reference number by their clinic so they can log in to the online system and send notifications via a number of contact methods, including dating website profile name, cruising app profile name, mobile or email. The message is composed for them and includes links to details of where their partners can go for testing. While men are encouraged to identify themselves in the message, it can be kept anonymous.
Men can use the service to send messages to members of the four participating gay dating websites (Fitlads, Gaydar, Manhunt and Recon) plus the cruising app, Bender. Members of these websites are urged to opt-in to receive notifications when they are sent the invite to do so.