Free health information, and easy access to it, is something I’m always in favour of. So a new initiative to provide vending machines offering free sexual health testing kits gets my vote.
They’ve been launched in four venues across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire by Bristol University Hospitals.
These vending machines, in shopping malls and community centres, provide an easy, free, fast and confidential way to test for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Two types of test kits are available – one for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis, while the other is an HIV mouth swab testing kit. A person using the first kit will be able to send their sample to a lab for free and get results by text message in one to three weeks.
Someone using the HIV kit will only have to swab the inside of their cheek with a mouth swab to get a result in just 20 minutes.
Both tests can be done at home. To get a test, a person will have to answer six quick questions and enter a code sent to their mobile phone into the vending machine.
Increased access to testing is a priority in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, which have higher rates of late diagnosis for HIV than the national average. Chlamydia is also detected less often in Bristol than in the rest of the UK and the region has higher numbers of people being diagnosed with syphilis.
This project is part of the Bristol Fast-Track Cities initiative. It is one of more than 200 cities involved in this international project aimed at ending new cases of HIV, reducing stigma and discrimination, and improving the quality of life for people living with HIV by 2030.
Sarah Stockwell, lead clinician from Unity Sexual Health, said: “We’re particularly excited to introduce easy, blood-free mouth swab HIV tests for the first time.
“We hope that this project will go some way to reducing the number of ongoing infections, as people with positive test results will be offered treatment by us or other NHS services.”
Councillor Ellie King of Bristol City Council, said: “This is an exciting initiative which will make it easier for people across Bristol to access sexual health tests.
“It means that STI testing is no longer bound to sexual health clinics or GP practices. People will be able to access free tests and do them at home.
“I hope that by having these new vending machines in prime locations in Bristol, it will help reduce the stigma of getting checked for STIs and change the way many people think and talk about sexual health testing.”