“Our new system is fast, anonymous, simple, painless - and won’t cost you a thing,” says NZAF Regional Manager Camille Smith. “If you test for HIV elsewhere, you’ll have to wait anywhere up to eight days to get the result back from a laboratory - requiring two appointments and a lot of anxiety. If you come to Awhina, you get a single appointment and a result you can go home with.”
The new rapid test system involves taking two drops of blood via a finger prick, which is then put into the testing device, rather than requiring a full blood test. Counselling is provided both before and aftewards.
“The speed of the test has not compromised its reliability - it has been approved and tested by the World Health Organisation and is as reliable as the regular test you’d receive from a GP or sexual health clinic,” Smith confirms.
HIV is most easily transmitted via anal sex without a condom, meaning that men who have sex with men remain the highest group for infection in New Zealand. 70 new infections among gay and bisexual men were recorded in 2006, a rate of one every five days.
“Being the highest risk group for infection, we are especially keen to see gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men using this service,” Smith says. “However, anyone who has been having anal or vaginal sex without condoms should consider getting a test. If you are HIV positive, it’s better to know so you can start exploring treatment options as early as possible, if necessary.”
Rapid testing is only available at NZAF centres, and has already been introduced in Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch. Demand in those centres has been heavy, with a two to three hundred per cent increase in testing numbers since its introduction.
“In our other centres, we are now conducting tests to the capacity of our services,” says NZAF National Positive Health Manager Eamonn Smythe. “The demand has certainly fulfilled our expectations, and in some centres it has exceeded them. We have had to increase our staff numbers accordingly.”
A large percentage of testing clients in other cities say they had never been tested for HIV before. “Some of these people had been deterred from testing previously by the anxiety of having to wait up to a week for results from a blood test,” Smythe says. “We’ve also had strong feedback suggesting that awareness about safe sexual activities has been increased by the service.”
NZAF AWHINA CENTRE CONTACT DETAILS:
Level 3, 27 Dixon St
Ph (04) 381 6640