At home test kits for HIV, mpox vaccinations in the community, and AI chat-bots, are all set to be rolled out as part of a push to reduce sexual health inequalities across England.
The projects, announced by the UK Health Security Agency, are aimed at increasing engagement with sexual health services, following a drop-off of engagement during the pandemic. In particular, a number of projects are aimed at improving outreach activity in underserved LGBT+ communities.
One of the most wide-reaching programmes that is planned will offer free HIV test kits that can be used by patients in their own home and delivered by mail.
The kits will arrive in plain packaging and give a result in 15 minutes by testing a drop of blood drawn from a finger. A ‘reactive’ result for HIV is possible, so a follow-up check in a clinic will also be needed.
Approximately 4,400 people in England are believed to be living with undiagnosed HIV. The test kits are hoped to reduce the stigma around testing and reach those whose lives could be improved or even saved with treatment says the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)
According to the UKHSA, HIV testing rates remain one-fifth lower than before the outbreak of Covid-19 among heterosexual men. While testing in gay and bisexual men has increased, rates of testing in women have fallen by 22% compared to 2019.
In addition to the at-home kits, the UKHSA has also provided funding for a number of new projects through a ‘pioneering’ new fund.
Kate Folkard, head of programme delivery for sexual health and blood borne viruses at UKHSA, said: ‘The innovation and reach of voluntary and community sector organisations is a vital piece in the puzzle of how we effectively tackle sexual health inequality across England.
‘These projects span the length and breadth of the country and will provide a valuable set of resources in England to build on the achievements already seen in the response to the mpox outbreak.’
The projects include the creation of an AI chatbot to increase knowledge and access to sexual health information and testing among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) and Bangladeshi GBMSM in eight north east London boroughs.
The UKHSA will also fund mpox and STI screening clinics in non-clinical community settings such as pride festivals and music venues.
Each of the community based voluntary organisations involved in the scheme with receive £30,000 of the £200,000 mpox and sexual health (STI and HIV) outreach and engagement activity fund.
Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew, said: ‘We’re determined to ensure that LGBT people have access to the healthcare and protections that they need.
‘I’m delighted that the government has been able to fund this initiative and work with UKHSA to identify the necessary expertise that will make a real difference.’