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Rapid HIV Testing Rolled Out In Hastings

Rapid testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) could be available in the Hastings soon, NSW Health said this week.

The comment comes as health staff from the Mid-North Coast spend this week in Lismore, working alongside their Northern Rivers colleagues at Australia's first pop-up rapid HIV testing site.

Personnel from the Mid-North Coast and Northern NSW health districts are operating the service from a specially designed Airstream bus at Tropical Fruits Festival. The regional pop-up follows the success of a similar initiative in Sydney's Taylor Square in December, and is a partnership between NSW Ministry of Health, the aforementioned local health districts, ACON and St Vincent's Pathology.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said the van is an example of how NSW Health is adapting its policies and services to take advantage of new advances in HIV testing and treatment. She said the initiative signals the department's intention to "roll out rapid testing statewide" to community health centres, including Port Macquarie, as soon as possible.

Northern NSW's manager of manager HIV & Related Programs (HARP), Jenny Heslop, said trained clinical staff from the Mid-North Coast were busy helping thousands of people at Lismore's annual festival of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual culture.

"The beauty of rapid access testing is that it works for a lot of people in rural and regional areas who aren't desperate for medical attention, but do want to manage their health without the whole town knowing," Ms Heslop said.

"A lot of the stigma is removed because someone knows they can get (the test) done quickly, and everyone won't know."

The testing is a simple process which involves a finger prick of blood, with results available within 30 minutes. Those tested can choose to wait at the site or go away and wait for a text message notifying them their results are ready. Those who test positive are accompanied to a nearby health centre for further blood tests and support.

"We encourage people at risk - especially men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and people who work in the sex industry - to take advantage of the site," Ms Heslop said.

There are 18 established rapid testing centres in NSW, and Ms Heslop said she hopes major regional communities including Port Macquarie will soon be able to provide the service.

"We've had quite a few people come through today (in Lismore) and they're very grateful that's it so accessible, easy and fast," she said. "We're hoping these successful test-runs mean the testing will be able to expand to more areas in 2014."

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