The challenge is on! At Johannesburg Pride, that took place on 28 October, WETHEBRAVE.co.za – a large-scale, national sexual health campaign that specifically addresses gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) – attempted to beat the number of MSM tested for HIV at Cape Town Pride held earlier this year.
“Research has shown that the HIV epidemic is driven by people who don’t know that they are positive, due to them not being tested regularly. With one of the major deterrents to testing being stigma and discrimination around sexuality – and Pride being a celebration of LGBTQ+ life and a platform to challenge prejudice – it is the perfect place for people to get tested,” says Nina Morris Lee, Head of Marketing at Anova Health Institute, which is currently spearheading the sexual health campaign funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Those who were #BraveEnough to take the free and confidential test received counselling before from a Health4Men healthcare practitioner, who is trained to counsel in a non-judgmental and sympathetic way. They then had one of their fingers pricked lightly enough to produce a drop of blood that was used in the disposable testing kit. The healthcare provider then explained exactly how the test works and what a positive or negative HIV result should look like, as well as provided counselling after the result was revealed.
Morris Lee shares, “Regardless of whether you test positive or negative, it’s always better to know your status. Those who test positive needn’t fear as HIV is even more manageable than diabetes. They can get the treatment they need as soon as possible and live long happy and healthy lives. Plus, research has shown that antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce a person’s viral load to the point where it is so low that it cannot be transmitted sexually.”
She continues: “Men who test negative should ideally be tested every three to six months and may be advised to take PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce the risk of HIV infection. In cases where an HIV-negative person has had high-risk exposure to HIV infection, they can access PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) to be used within 72 hours of being exposed.”
While the testing being done at Pride is geared towards men specifically, this is not intended to be exclusionary or discriminatory so adults of any gender identity were welcomed to go and get tested. WETHEBRAVE.co.za concentrates on men simply because it is the most vulnerable demographic for HIV acquisition and transmission, with HIV prevalence amongst South African men who have sex with men being one of the highest in the world.
With the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign tackling both prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgemental and sex-positive way that is both entertaining and enlightening.