Young gay men are avoiding testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, a new study reveals
One third of young gay men have never been tested for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections despite the fact that they are increasingly likely to have unprotected sex with casual partners.
Health professionals have raised concerns about the 65 per cent increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed with HIV in NSW between 2009-12.
Medical bodies and community groups have responded by taking testing to the streets in a bid to encourage more young men to find out their HIV status.
There are 19 sites in NSW offering rapid HIV testing, in which people who give a finger prick of blood can get a result in 30 minutes.
Staff working out of a retro caravan in Newtown will be encouraging evening commuters to take the test this week in the lead-up to the annual Mardi Gras parade on Saturday. The public health push comes on the heels of new findings by the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW which revealed that 32 per cent of gay men aged between 16-26 years have never been tested for HIV or other STIs, compared with 5.6 per cent of their older counterparts.
Professor John de Wit, co-author of the study with Dr Philippe Adam, found that about one in three young gay men reported unprotected sex with casual partners, up from about one in four a decade ago.
His research showed that many young men were oblivious to health messages and the importance of being tested.
”A quarter of the young guys said they had never been exposed to prevention campaigns which is really a shock,” he said.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said young men lacked knowledge about testing.
”There is still this legacy perception that it takes two weeks to get test results and that testing positive is a death sentence,” she said.
”With treatment, life expectancy is very good.”
ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill said taking testing to the community would be a big step in encouraging more men to get checked.
”It’s important that we take testing out of the clinical space and put it into the community space,” he said. ”Up until 12 months ago you had to see your GP, take a test and go back in a week for the result. Now you can come in [to a rapid testing site] and get the results in 30 minutes.”
For those who test positive, further testing is available along with medical and emotional support.
Actor and musician Brendan Maclean, 26, said the prospect of testing positive was a genuine fear for his gay peers.
”People are still afraid of getting a positive result but knowing your status is so much better than not knowing,” he said.
His friend, Michael Yates, 26, said young men were also still concerned about being stigmatised because of their sexual practices.
”A lot of times you go to the clinic and some staff are not sympathetic towards the needs of young people,” he said. ”It can feel as if you are being judged because of your sexual history.”