HIV Testing Goes Digital

    The Martin Fisher Foundation are an outstanding HIV-focused charity, pioneering the concept of distributing home HIV self-tests via digital vending machines in Brighton venues/promotions as part of Brighton & Hove’s commitment to eliminate HIV transmissions by 2025 altogether.

    The first Digital Vending Machine was launched in 2017 at the Brighton Sauna distributing free HIV self-tests with four further machines installed last year in Subline, Marlborough Pub and Theatre, The Rainbow Hub Community service and the Prowler Store.The service won a British Medical Journal Innovations award last year and this month launched the first mobile service of its kind at Brighton & Hove’s B Right On festival which has been highly praised. Before the kit is dispensed the user inputs their age, whether they live in Brighton & Hove, their HIV testing history, sexuality and gender through the touch screen. All information is anonymous.

    The Brighton Sauna is the south coast’s busiest sauna for gay men, with over 400 customers coming through the doors every month, including younger lads still new to the scene, curious bisexual guys, as well as gay men who identify as such but are not necessarily ‘out’ to their family and friends.   Many of their clients value their privacy and discretion, and the same applied to their sexual health as well as their lifestyle. The owners suspected that a significant number of local residents were not testing for HIV regularly.  This included intelligent guys who lead busy lives or who simply assumed HIV wouldn’t impact their general wellbeing, for whatever reason. They concluded that many men felt unable or uncomfortable testing in a clinical situation, after sitting around in waiting rooms awaiting their one-to-one consultation .

    But early testing can save lives, and with appropriate treatment can put a stop to the ongoing transmission of HIV which is why they were delighted when the Martin Fisher Foundation approached them to trial their anonymous vending solutions, distributing home self-testing kits that we are able to offer free to customers, including those attending private and club events the Brighton Horse Fair and SBN fetish and club events, providing alternative testing solutions for a widening client base that can be used in the comfort of their own homes.

    The Martin Fisher Foundation want to increase awareness of these alternative testing facilities that offer convenience and confidentiality, without having to see a healthcare worker or provide any personal information in advance. By increasing the profile of the project and working with the Foundation to reduce HIV stigma that still exists in the city, they hope to see a significant increase in testing rates.

    “When I first heard about the self-test vending system, I was amazed that such a fantastic idea hadn’t been implemented sooner! The core customers of my venue are pretty switched on when it comes to matters of sexual health; but having the machine is a handy resource, and a good reminder. There’s no excuse to not know your status!

    In an ideal world, every kind of venue would be keen to join the scheme, but it speaks volumes about the stigma that still remains that the more ‘high street’ gay venues (where the customers are arguably less knowledgeable when it comes to sexual health) wouldn’t consider it.”.

    Steve Lee, General Manager, Subline,

    Outside of London, Brighton & Hove has the highest HIV prevalence in the UK, so the foundation also hope to engage men considered most at risk, which in Brighton is the under 25s, those who have become blind to the traditional gay men’s health HIV prevention ads, those who choose the chemsex scene or partying at home and the trans community.

    There have been huge leaps forward in HIV treatment and prevention in the last few years. Everyone should know their own status and test regularly. These vending machines are an amazing idea and I hope to see them in many more venues. They are quick and easy to use and offer steps and support contact information should a positive result be received. I would urge all our customers who do not want to test in a clinical environment to consider using these machines.

    Peter Booth, Prowler Brighton

    Whilst the Martin Fisher Foundation would ideally like to distribute free HIV tests in all venues, not just the Brighton Sauna, this has not been financially feasible so far. Therefore in the community venues each kit costs £9.99 (cost price), which is still up to £20-25 cheaper than the same kits available on line or though Superdrug. The charge may be a barrier for some, however the end user benefits from testing in the comfort of their own home, when perhaps they highly have felt awkward attending a clinic, or simply pushed for time.

    ‘We have a real opportunity to eliminate new HIV infections in the next five to ten years, but this will only happen if everyone at risk of HIV is aware of their status, so they can either access HIV treatment or PrEP. The community machines increase testing opportunities for those requiring regular testing, and may also be useful for people reluctant to attend traditional sexual health services’

    Dr Gillian Dean, Chair, The Martin Fisher Foundation

    Find out more about the Martin Fisher Foundation and their work at: www.themartinfisherfoundation.orgTwitter: @HIVSelfTestVend | Facebook: HIVSelfTestVending