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Sauna becomes first in UK to install vending machine with free HIV testing kits

The gay sauna is in the south coast city of Brighton

Sauna becomes first in UK to install vending machine with free HIV testing kits
The HIV testing kit vending machine at The Brighton Sauna

The UK’s first vending machine to distribute free, self-use HIV home-testing kits has been installed at a gay sauna in Brighton.

The machine was launched at The Brighton Sauna on the weekend, to coincide with the city’s Pride celebrations.

The initiative is a joint project between the Martin Fisher Foundation (MFF) and home-test kit makers BioSure.

Technology solutions

The MFF was launched in 2015 in memory of the late clinician, Dr Martin Fisher, to continue his work in reducing the rate of HIV transmission.

It has received funding from Public Health England’s (PHE) HIV Prevention Innovation Fund 2016-2017 , which sought out innovative ideas to bring HIV awareness to hard-to-reach groups.

One of those supporting the initiative is Dr Gillian Dean, Consultant in GUM/HIV, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals. She said in a press statement, ‘this is a great example of true partnership working, combined with innovative technology.’

Customers who wish to get their hands on a kit use a touch screen to enter a few personal details. After entering an SMS confirmation code sent to their phone, the machine dispenses a kit.

This can be taken home or used at the sauna. Sauna staff have received training to offer support and advice.

GSN has reached out to The Brighton Sauna for comment.

The drive to bring down HIV infection

England’s annual HIV statistics are released around World AIDS Day each year. The most recent statistics showed no significant drop in the number of people diagnosed in the UK: 6,095 in 2015 compared to 6,151 in 2014.

However, health campaigners are hopeful that this year’s statistics may show a drop. 56 Dean Street in London, which has a high gay clientele and accounted for one in nine of the UK’s HIV diagnosis, reported last December that it had seen a 40% drop in HIV diagnoses in the preceding 12 months.

Clinicians put this down to helping more men obtain PrEP medication to prevent them becoming HIV positive. It has also worked hard to encourage gay men to get tested every three months.

NHS England has since announced that it is extending its current PrEP trial to 10,000 ‘high-risk’ individuals, starting from this September.

UPDATE 08.08.17: Paul Gray, owner of The Brighton Sauna, told GSN, ‘We are really ecstatic about being involved with this and anything we can do as a business to reduce HIV in Brighton and Hove, we will do and commit to.’

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