In a nation-first initiative, one Adelaide organisation is connecting South Australians to free HIV testing kits, with the goal of putting an end to HIV transmission. (Image: Amelia Walters)
By Amelia Walters
South Australia has become the first state in Australia to implement free HIV testing kits, thanks to ongoing federal funding.
On March 1, the Australian Government announced a new national action plan and a $26 million investment in health and medical research focusing on LGBTQIA+ communities at the WorldPride 2023 Human Rights Conference.
South Australia Mobilisation and Empowerment for Sexual Health (SAMESH) have created the Connect 2 > project, an initiative designed to ramp up HIV testing in South Australia without people having to pay or see a medical professional.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler said the federal government’s new action plan will aim to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia, and support initiatives like the Connect 2> project.
“While many LGBTQIA+ people live happy and healthy lives, others continue to experience discrimination, stigma, isolation, harassment and violence – all of which leads to poorer health,” Minister Butler said.
“The plan will build on the Government’s commitments to accelerate the elimination of HIV transmission in Australia and guide the reforms needed to ensure LGBTQIA+ Australians are given every chance to live healthier lives.”
The HIV test vending machines will allow access to those who may not otherwise test, which SAMESH Project Coordinator, Professor Nikki Sullivan says is essential for encouraging ongoing sexual health testing in South Australia.
“Seventy-four per cent of those using our kits have never tested for HIV before,” Professor Sullivan said.
“HIV is most common among men who have sex with men (MSM), but whilst the numbers are dropping amongst that group, they are stable among heterosexuals, meaning cases of HIV are actually rising amongst heterosexuals.”
HIV transmission data (AFAO 2023)
According to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation (AFAO), 27 per cent of HIV cases in Australia are made up of those who identify as heterosexual.
The Connect2> project is designed for people who currently experience multiple barriers to HIV testing including cost, time, privacy, stigma, and discrimination.
“HIV doesn’t discriminate, unlike us,” Professor Sullivan said.
The vending machines’ instructions are translated into eight different languages (Image: Amelia Walters)
The Connect2> project is designed to be a culturally safe and accessible campaign, with all HIV kits translated into eight different languages and found in discrete and safe locations where target populations frequent.
The vending machines can be found in five locations around Adelaide, with four of the five at Adelaide University and UniSA campuses, and the other located inside ‘Pultney 431’ (Adelaide’s only sex on premises sight).
Fourth-year Adelaide University International Development Student, Lauryn Farmer believes the implementation of the HIV vending machines will change the way young people view HIV for the better.
“The HIV vending machines help destigmatise the disease by increasing visibility and information,” Ms Farmer said.
“The machines also increase accessibility to prevention methods in a demographic that typically both struggles financially and are at higher risk for the disease.”
With the announcement of the federal government’s action plan, the Connect2> project will continue to be a successful and ongoing project, enabling South Australia to work towards ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.
To learn more, or find one of the five HIV testing locations in South Australia, visit the SAMESH website for more information.