Early diagnosis helps people get effective HIV treatments in time and reduces the risk of passing on HIV to others.
Data released by NSW Health shows HIV testing rates dropped in 2021 due to COVID-19 disruptions.
“Now that we are getting out of pandemic lockdowns, it is important that people at risk of HIV return to their routine, regular HIV testing habits” said Professor David Templeton, Head of Sexual Health Medicine at Sydney Local Health District, based at RPA Sexual Health.
“In Australia, we are on the cusp of eliminating HIV transmission thanks to our success in diagnosing and treating HIV early, which reduces HIV transmission to close to zero. In addition, we have high numbers of people at risk of HIV taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. Just one pill a day prevents them from catching HIV. However, certain populations in our community such as recent overseas arrivals and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are missing out. Regular testing for HIV is crucial to reaching our goal of ending HIV by 2030,” said Prof Templeton.There are many options to get a HIV test. HIV testing is free if you have a Medicare card. If you are a temporary visitor in NSW and don’t have a Medicare card, Sexual Health Clinics offer free, easy and confidential services. For people wanting to avoid crowded places such as doctor’s offices and clinics, the online DBS test remain a popular option.
“Dried Blood Spot testing is an easy way for you to get tested for HIV,” said Barbara Luisi, the District’s Director of the Diversity Programs and Strategy Hub. “You can order a free DBS HIV testing kit online, do the test and send it to a laboratory for results. The test results are private and confidential.”
Your can order your DBS testing kit from hivtest.health.nsw.gov.au. For more information on HIV testing, treatment and prevention, download HIV – What you need to know resource from mhahs.org.au/index.php/en/hiv/hiv-what-you-need-to-know
Sydney Local Health District is encouraging local communities to come back to their doctors and resume their critical liver health checks. “Now is the time to take care of ourselves and look after your liver health. If you are living with chronic hepatitis B, getting tested and finding whether you have hepatitis B is part of it. Without treatment, chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer. Postponing your hepatitis B test may delay life-saving treatment,” said Barbara Luisi, Director of Diversity Programs and Strategy Hub.
The Are you living with hepatitis B? Find Out. Get Tested campaign developed by the Diversity Programs and Strategy Hub encourages people from diverse communities to get tested for hepatitis B and look after their liver health. Starting May 2nd, the month-long state-wide campaign across ethnic newspaper, radio and social media campaign aims to raise awareness of hepatitis B testing and treatment across the Arabic-speaking, Chinese-speaking, Korean, Sub-Saharan African, and Vietnamese communities living in NSW.
In Australia, it is estimated 230,154 people are living with chronic hepatitis B, with less than 10% receiving treatment (Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity report 2019). It is estimated 296 million people are living with hepatitis B in the world, with nearly 90% of them unaware that they are infected (World Health Organization report 2019). Therefore, a large proportion of Australians living with chronic hepatitis B are still undiagnosed, with a large representation of affected people being born overseas.
“We are encouraging community members to ask their doctor about hepatitis B and book their hepatitis B tests. Testing is free if you have a Medicare card. If you don’t have a Medicare Card, most NSW Health Sexual Health Clinics can be a free option. In Australia, all conversations with your doctor remain private,” Ms Luisi said.
Visit our multilingual Hepatitis B Testing Options Page for more information. A multilingual resource toolkit, which includes the campaign digital and hard copy resources is available on the campaign webpage.
District marks World AIDS Day as booklet about living with HIV recognised
A multilingual HIV information booklet developed by Sydney Local Health District has been recognised as a finalist in the 2021 Multicultural Health Communication Awards, as the world marks 40 years since the start of the AIDS epidemic.
The state-wide Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service, hosted by the District, partnered with the community to develop the booklet, called HIV – What you need to know. It focuses on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment as well as addressing stigma and improving access to health services.
“Advances in treatments and prevention mean that people with HIV on effective treatments can enjoy long and healthy lives, have virtually no risk of passing on HIV to others and can have children without HIV,” Barbara Luisi, the District’s Director of the Diversity Programs and Strategy Hub, said.
The Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service works with people living with HIV from diverse communities, many of whom report feeling isolated and stigmatised within the general community.
“In response to the concerns of our community, we developed this booklet in partnership with them. Insights and feedback from community consultations, focus group testing and peer-review played a critical role in taking a culturally appropriate approach to a sensitive topic,” Ms Luisi said.
The booklet is available in eight languages – English, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese.
So far, more than 6,500 hard copies have been distributed state-wide through healthcare services, NGOs and community based organisations. Digital copies can be downloaded from the Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service.
“We hope it will contribute to changing attitudes about HIV and help to reduce stigma,” Ms Luisi said.
The recognition as a finalist in the Multicultural Health Communication Awards coincides with World AIDS Day, which is an opportunity to reflect on the response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. This year’s theme is 40 years of HIV – where to next?
The first five cases of what later became known as AIDS were officially reported in 1981.
It marked the beginning of a devastating public health crisis, but in the decade since there have been scientific advances particularly in the area of HIV treatments and prevention.
The NSW HIV Strategy 2020 – 2025 continues Australia’s commitment to end HIV by 2025 while acknowledging that stigma continues to create barriers to HIV testing and treatment.
The Strategy aims for a 75 per cent reduction in discriminatory attitudes held towards people living with or at risk of HIV.
The winners of the Multicultural Health Communication Awards will be announced on 8 -December 2021.
This campaign encourages people at risk of HIV to ask their doctor for a test, according to Barbara Luisi, Director of the Diversity Programs and Strategy Hub at Sydney Local Health District.
“Knowing your HIV test result early means getting the right help on time. With treatment, people have a better chance of living long, healthy lives and not passing on the virus,” said Ms Luisi.HIV remains a public health concern in Australia with an estimated 29,045 people living with HIV in 2019. According to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) more than three thousand people remain unaware they have the virus and may be unknowingly passing it on to others. They also risk missing out on getting HIV treatments on time due to late diagnosis.
There are a variety of ways to get a HIV test these days, including not having to visit a clinic in person for testing.
The online Dried Blood Spot (DBS) Testing allows people to order a free testing kit, do the test in the privacy of their own home and send it to a laboratory to check their results.
The test can be ordered by visiting the DBS site http://www.hivtest.health.nsw.gov.au which also has information in a range of languages including plain English.
The DBS test results are kept private and confidential.
The Sydney Local Health District based Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service is supporting the campaign by promoting HIV home testing across Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian and Thai community media.