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Let’s Talk About Sex

8 February 2012

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London, UK After a holiday of festivities and celebration, many people discover they spread, or received, a little more Christmas cheer than they bargained for!

Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is something we all want to avoid, or get treated as soon as possible. In fact, it’s not only good for our health and peace of mind, it makes a huge difference to everyone, because if you’re diagnosed and treated for an STI, including HIV, you’re less likely to pass it on, and less likely to be vulnerable to new infections.

In the UK, around half all people newly diagnosed with HIV, and syphilis which is often linked to HIV infection, are men who have sex with men (MSM). The number of newly diagnosed cases of gonorrhoea amongst MSM in 2010 (4,503) was higher than for any other year in the last decade.

So it makes sense to tell guys you’ve had sex with when you get diagnosed with an STI, but sometimes it’s not an easy thing to do, especially through the standard GUM clinic service.

Now, with funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, gay mens’ health charity GMFA, has worked with NHS clinics and four dating sites (Fitlads, Gaydar, Manhunt and Recon) to develop an innovative sexual health messaging service, which enables you and the clinic staff to let your sexual partners know when you’ve been diagnosed with an STI. This can be done by text, through a dating site log-in or by email – whichever works best for you, and your details can be kept anonymous if you wish. Not only that, but the messages are composed for you by the clinic staff so you don’t have to think about what to say.

How do you know that your message will be welcomed?
GMFA found that over 95% of the men they surveyed said they would want to know if someone they had sex with was diagnosed with an STI or HIV. This is borne out by the fact that so far over 22,000 Gaydar users have signed up to be notified through their log-ins on the site.

The basic idea is pretty simple. If you are diagnosed with an STI, or HIV, you (or a health adviser acting on your behalf), can log-on to the Sexual Health Messaging Service website, select the infection or infections you have been diagnosed with, enter the contact details of the partners you wish to notify, decide if you want any of your messages to be anonymous, and send them.

What are the advantages?

1. You don’t have to worry about what to say. The message is composed for you and signposts your partners to resources that can help them find a clinic and understand more about the STI they may have been exposed to.

2. You can send your messages anonymously if you want to. Most of the men surveyed said they would prefer to be told directly, and most of them are more likely to act on a notification if they know who it came from. But some men simply won’t send any notifications if they can’t do it anonymously.

What are the advantages for clinics?
1. If the only contact information a patient has for any given partner is a profile name on a dating site, the clinic can now use that information to reach that partner.

Initially this has been limited to the dating app Bender and the dating sites Fitlads, Gaydar, Manhunt and Recon, but the new service has been developed so that other apps and sites can get on board as soon as they are ready.

2. Improved monitoring and auditing of partner notification outcomes. Each notification that the system sends includes a unique reference number. Recipients are asked to bring their reference numbers to the clinic with them, and clinics enter them into the system to record partner visits. This way GMFA can anonymously monitor and audit the number of notifications delivered by patients and the number of those notifications that resulted in clinic verified attendance by partners. This is a big breakthrough because there is no data currently on how effective partner notification is using the standard NHS system.

‘2011 showed us that if you are living with HIV and on ARV treatment, you are up to 96% less likely to pass on the HIV virus’ said Anne Aslett, Executive Director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. ‘GMFA’s scheme not only helps reduce the pool of undiagnosed STIs, it can help make the future AIDS free.’