HIV testing at gay venues

Mouth swabs are being taken from volunteers at gay venues in Brighton and Hove to gather new data on HIV risk patterns, prevention needs, and local prevalence.
The project “SIALON II” is being co-funded by Health Programme of the European Union in collaboration with the World Health Organisation.
Co-ordinated in the UK by Dr Nigel Sherriff from the University of Brighton’s Centre for Health Research, the data collection began last month and will continue until June.
Outreach workers from Terrence Higgins Trust are working with gay venues in the city to collect 400 mouth swab samples and other data from men who have sex with men (MSM).
Oral HIV swabbing provides an alternative to traditional blood tests. While the HIV virus itself cannot be transmitted through saliva, an HIV positive person will have antibodies in their saliva allowing clinicians to identify whether they are HIV positive or negative from swab samples.
The team has already collected 285 samples alongside data about men’s behaviours and their perception of their own HIV status. The results will allow researchers to develop an insight into behaviour and attitudes among MSM that could shape future prevention measures in Brighton, while identifying risk patterns and prevalence in the city.
Although the data is anonymised for the purposes of the research, men who want to access their results are able to do so using a barcode system that provides a return result within one week.
Outreach workers report that oral swabbing is proving to be an acceptable means of testing in non-traditional settings such as gay venues.
Dr Sherriff said: “Early findings are really promising. We have been delighted with the positive cooperation of gay venues across the city and of the willingness of MSM to take up the offer of oral fluid testing.
“Although Brighton and Hove has the highest rate of HIV infection outside of London, we are seeing already that this innovative testing method, as well as providing prevention information and condoms, is an important way of increasing access to HIV testing and ultimately contributes to reducing new infections and onward transmission.”
The outreach team is being led by Ross Boseley, Health Promotion Coordinator for the Terrence Higgins Trust in Brighton. He said: “This important research has the potential to build a detailed understanding of the shape of the HIV epidemic in the city. Those we have met in Brighton’s gay venues have welcomed oral swab testing, reinforcing the need for continued investment in new and innovative ways of encouraging testing in the community. By working together with business leaders we are able to reach more gay and bisexual men, which will help us shape the delivery of future HIV prevention services and campaigns to suit those living locally.”
Similar testing in the SIALON II project is to be carried out throughout the EU and other countries including Russia.
 www.sialon.eu

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