ACON launches new HIV awareness campaign
ACON's new HIV awareness campaign spotlights risk awareness
A new HIV prevention campaign is aiming to increase gay men’s knowledge about the degrees of risk involved in not using condoms when they’re having sex.
Called Know The Risk, the campaign has been developed by ACON and provides an analysis and evaluation of non-condom based risk reduction strategies which are commonly used by some gay men.
These strategies include: strategic positioning or ensuring the HIV-negative partner is insertive (i.e. the ‘top’); serosorting or seeking partners with the same HIV status (i.e. pos-pos or, under prescriptive circumstances, neg-neg); and incorporating an informed understanding of undetectable viral load into risk reduction practice. All these strategies carry risks that vary according to practice and circumstance.
The campaign website (www.knowtherisk.org.au) includes a risk calculator which can determine the degree of HIV transmission risk in over 70 different scenarios from user-supplied information about the context of their encounter. There’s also a risk scale and an interactive questions section which will deliver a response to queries within one working day.
Launched this week, the campaign coincides with the recent release of the 2012 National HIV Surveillance Report which showed an increase in HIV diagnoses attributed to sex between men in most Australian states and territories.
ACON HIV and Sexual Health Programs Director Geoff Honnor says the national increase in diagnoses last year emphasises the need for fresh approaches to HIV prevention. “Here in NSW, HIV notifications have remained stable for 15 years,” Mr Honnor says. “If we are to achieve a sustained decline in HIV notifications, we clearly require different strategies. In order to get there, ACON is rebuilding our engagement with gay men via a range of new programs and social marketing initiatives. This now includes Know The Risk, which speaks directly and honestly to the reality that some gay men use risk reduction strategies other than condoms, depending on circumstance and practice.
“For the last 30 years, the central message we’ve promoted and reinforced to and with gay men is that condoms provide the best protection against HIV, and they still do. Their effectiveness is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of gay men in NSW continue to use condoms most of the time. However, we know from a growing body of research that gay men also use a range of other strategies to reduce the risk of HIV for themselves and their partners, not because they don’t care, but because they do.
“Nothing in life - or sex - is without risk, and over the last 30 years, the journey of gay men through an ever-evolving HIV epidemic continues to produce new ways of balancing HIV risk with desire and pleasure. ACON has supported this process by providing factual information aimed at enabling men to make evidence-based decisions – individually and collectively – about minimising risk and maximising pleasure. What we’re doing with Know The Risk is responding to the ever evolving reality of how gay men adapt to and deal with HIV as an ongoing feature of gay life.”
Mr Honnor says the campaign is not about encouraging gay men to stop using condoms. “Far from it. Condoms may not be the only way to reduce risk but this campaign demonstrates very clearly that they’re still the most assured means of doing so. At the end of the day, it’s the degree of risk that’s key. It’s crucial that guys are able to develop a broad understanding of the various gradations of risk in order to achieve the most informed basis for decision-making.”
Mr Honnor says an essential part of risk reduction is knowing one’s own HIV status and that of one’s partner/s. “Without that knowledge, you don’t have risk reduction, just risk. That knowledge can only come from regular HIV/STI testing with which every sexually active gay man needs to be engaged. ACON will continue to encourage and enable that to occur, as flexibly and conveniently as possible.’
Know The Risk will be promoted through print and online advertising and in gay pubs, clubs and sex on premises venues. The campaign can be viewed at www.knowtherisk.org.au