Queensland is a big State with a greatly dispursed population, which makes it a big challenge to ensure all Queenslanders have equitable access to the health care system. In regional and remote areas, it is also a challenge to maintain skilled health workers to service local communities. When it comes to the prevention of HIV, it is important to ensure that we use innovative approaches that reach outside the urban population centres to ensure we can offer HIV testing services to everyone in need.
Regional sexual health clinics are the main point of call for many people to access HIV testing. Lack of or limited access to these services across much of regional Queensland is one barrier to regular testing. The limited capacity of these services to undertake HIV prevention work means that the reach of prevention messaging is often limited to people already attending the clinic services. With stigma being one of the greatest barriers to the prevention of HIV, broader and more far reaching HIV prevention messaging and awareness raising is required to encourage everyone to test as regularly as they should be.
In Brisbane and other Australian cities, there has been a movement towards community based testing facilities to increase the options available to people. These community based services have been used internationally for a number of years now, offering a peer run option that reduces the need for someone to access their GP or sexual health clinic. Research has shown that these community services remove barriers to testing for people who do not feel comfortable talking to their doctor about their sexual health and sexuality. Therefore, community based peer run services are able to reach a wider audience of people who do not regularly test for HIV.
For regional and remote communities, how can we ensure there is access to a service the community is willing to attend on a regular basis? For gay men and other men who have sex with men, it is recommended to have an HIV test every 3-6 months, depending on their sexual behaviours. Ensuring services exist for the gay community, services that are gay friendly and provide a safe environment is important if we are to increase rates of HIV testing across Queensland.
In 2014, the Community HIV Education and Prevention Program conducted the Rapid Roadshow, which travelled the coast of Queensland from Port Douglas to Burleigh Heads to raise awareness of HIV and Rapid HIV Testing at a whole of population level. Throughout the Rapid Roadshow, we also targeted the gay community and where possible, offered a testing service in collaboration with the local sexual health clinics, we received a lot of positive feedback. The response to peer based testing was overwhelming high with many people indicating they would test more frequently for HIV.
The Roadshow format is a real benefit for regional communities as it allows us to reach further afield and bring HIV prevention and education messages to towns that would otherwise miss out. We are also able to offer a peer based testing service to many of the regions where it has never before been available, while also providing support to local sexual health clinics by getting out into the community to not only raise awareness of HIV, but also raise awareness of the local sexual health services available to them.
HIV test postal kits are another option available to Queenslanders no matter where they live. You can order an HIV test that collects a sample of your saliva and then post it off to a lab for processing. The kits are available to order from www.qpp.org.au/testing. These kits are particularly important to people who live too far away to regularly access a sexual health clinic, but they are also an option for people who do not want to engage with people face to face, as all contact will be online and over the phone.
At the moment we are working on a plan to bring a more regular community based testing service to a number of towns in regional Queensland. If you live in a regional area and have an idea that would help to engage your local community to test while we are in town, or if you have an interest in being involved, then feel free to get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.