|Helping your Friends to self-test their HIV Status|
by Norbert Splint in Health & Body , 03 March 2019
Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
In the course of 2019, several Sexual Health clinics and HIV treatment centres in the Netherlands will start recruiting participants for a new self-test project. They will ask men who have sex with men and transgender people to distribute free HIV self-tests.
The participants (peers) will be helping people in their own circle of friends and acquaintances (the peer group), who have not been tested for HIV for a long period of time, to do an HIV self-test. This is especially important for people with a non-Western migration background.
Although HIV control in the Netherlands is doing well and the number of new diagnoses is declining, many people with HIV are still only seeking contact with care when their immune system is already seriously weakened. “We therefore have to test even more actively to detect people with HIV earlier,” says Eline Op de Coul, senior epidemiologist at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and project leader of the Self-Test Project.
HIV Testing in the Home Environment
People who want to participate as peers first receive basic information from a peer coordinator. Afterwards, they receive a short online training with sample videos on how they can approach others and how the test works. After this training, test packages are handed to the peers for distribution. It concerns a self-test based on oral moisture. The test has a high reliability and can easily be carried out by the subject itself. Anonymous, in the home environment or another safe place.
When recruiting peers, specific attention is paid to the social network of the men who have sex with men with a non-Western migration background as well as of transgender people.
Eline indicates that in this group HIV is more common, and that on average, it is diagnosed at a much later stage. Possibly there are prejudices about (homo) sexuality and HIV, which can act as a barrier for getting tested. Eline: “We want to investigate whether we can better reach this group with an HIV test if it becomes available through a friend or acquaintance.”
Reducing the Barrier
Of course it is important that people who are at risk of contracting HIV are aware of their HIV status. Also, or rather: precisely people who cannot be reached through usual channels. Hence the switch to the “peer group”: if your friends talk about it, the threshold for testing can be lowered.
This Self-Test project is carried out by various Sexual Health clinics (GGDs) and HIV treatment centres. There, people who are interested can get a flyer with all the necessary information. More information can be found on www.time2test.nl.
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