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Health experts are concerned HIV rates are higher among overseas-born gay men living in Australia.
While recent NSW Health data shows a significant decrease in HIV rates in Australian-born gay and bisexual men, there has been no decline for international arrivals.
Professor Andrew Grulich, who heads the Kirby Institute’s HIV Prevention Program, said the lack of progress was a major concern.
“There is a lot of rapid research going into this now because it is being recognised as perhaps the key issue in HIV prevention in NSW at the moment,” he said.
Prof Grulich attributed the declining rates in Australian-born men to better testing and treatment options.
“We now use treatment as prevention: it’s a combination of early diagnosis through increased testing, and linking people to treatment straight after diagnosis,” he said.
“It is also due to the implementation of PrEP, the HIV prevention drug, and high levels of condom use.”
But while these advancements are helping Australian-born men, Professor Mark Stoove, Head of the Burnet Institute’s HIV Elimination Project thinks financial barriers are stopping overseas-born men from benefitting.
“There are certainly impediments for gay overseas students to testing because of their lack of access to Medicare. Some private health insurance won’t cover HIV testing, or students must pay up front,” he said.
Prof Grulich said men arriving from other countries could feel uncomfortable getting tested.
“Overseas students may arrive without sex education or knowledge,” he said.
“Some of these men come from very socially conservative backgrounds where it’s not acceptable to be gay and so testing rates are lower in these groups.”
Born in Australia, Rory Hocknell is a young gay man of Malaysian-Chinese heritage.
He said he was frightened to get his first HIV test because he hadn’t come out to his family.
“Initially, I was terrified that my parents would find out about the test and find out I was gay, and I think other young men may face this,” Mr Hocknell said.
He said he has since realised that testing is easy and accessible in Australia, unlike other countries.
“In Malaysia, for instance, homosexual sex is illegal. Access to information about HIV prevention isn’t as prevalent in many other countries, so gay men coming here may not be aware about how to get tested and prevent HIV,” he said.
The AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) has developed specialised campaigns and workshops to educate men without strong English proficiency.
Angus Molyneux, a Community Health Promotion Officer at ACON, said they were now delivering workshops in Mandarin.
“We’re making sure our education campaigns are delivered in community languages. Our posters for PrEP are not just in English, but also in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and other languages.”