Award winning project makes HIV testing part of routine care

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre clinical nurse consultant Melissa Power and health promotion officer Kevin Dong.

A recent staff survey, organised by Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre (WSSHC), has identified why people attending Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) services may miss out on being offered a test for HIV.

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre director Professor David Lewis said it’s a belief many of WSLHD’s residents are not at risk of HIV because they don’t fit particular stereotypes.

“Several our HIV patients were diagnosed late, even though they had multiple contacts with health service providers,” Professor Lewis said.

“It is important to offer HIV testing to a diverse range of patients.

“HIV testing is important as getting diagnosed early means people can start treatment. HIV treatment is very simple and highly effective.

“Once a patient starts treatment they quickly become ‘undetectable’ and can no longer pass on HIV virus.”

The survey highlighted several barriers for WSLHD staff including not knowing if HIV testing was offered within their service, not feeling confident to talk about HIV testing and not knowing about the HIV testing process including managing HIV results. Staff also said they felt concerned about the perceived stigma of offering a HIV test.

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre project lead and clinical nurse consultant Melissa Power said we all need to do more to support and normalise HIV testing in the workplace and remove HIV stigma.

“HIV testing remains low outside of sexual health clinics, with the one exception of antenatal settings,” Melissa said.

“Among the various staff groups surveyed, doctors and midwives were most comfortable with the entire HIV testing process.  However, many staff did not feel comfortable or confident to discuss and offer HIV testing.

“We are developing a local HIV testing guideline, staff can access existing resources like the My Health Learning Normalise HIV testing in your practice module. We all have a role to play and it is important that there is a clear approach to HIV testing within our teams.”

Recently Melissa was awarded the Australian Sexual Health and HIV Nurses Association’s (ASHHNA) prize for best poster by a nurse “Barriers to Targeted HIV Testing in a Culturally Diverse Urban Setting in Australia” at the 2020 Australasian Sexual Health and HIV Conference.

WSLHD chief executive Graeme Loy commended the award-winning team for their dedication to normalise and encourage HIV testing in the community and across the District.

“Congratulations to the Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre for this outstanding achievement,” Graeme said.

“We are so fortunate to have such a talented multidisciplinary team at WSSHC, where there is a real sense of the importance of embracing clinical service, education and translational research in order to best service our patients and enable professional development of our own team and our colleagues within WSLHD,” Professor Lewis said.

World AIDS Day falls on 1 December. WSSHC wants to remind communities that HIV testing is still important, even in the current content of COVID-19. When it is diagnosed early, effective treatments mean that it is possible to live a long and healthy life with HIV. We encourage everyone who may have been at risk of HIV to ask for a HIV test – it is easy, confidential, and should be a regular part of routine health care.

HIV testing is available at WSSHC sites. Please click here for locations and details.