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BACKGROUND: The 2012 regulatory approval of HIV rapid point of care (RPOC) tests in Australia and a national strategic focus on HIV testing provided a catalyst for implementation of non-clinical HIV testing service models. PRONTO! opened in 2013 as a two-year trial delivering peer-led community-based HIV RPOC tests targeting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBM), with the aim of increasing HIV testing frequency. Initial data suggested this aim was not achieved and, as part of a broader service evaluation, we sought to explore client acceptability and barriers to testing at PRONTO! to refine the service model.
METHODS: We present descriptive and thematic analyses of data from two in-depth evaluation surveys and four focus groups with PRONTO! clients focused on service acceptability, client testing history, intentions to test and barriers to testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
RESULTS: The three novel aspects of the PRONTO! model, testing environment, rapid-testing, peer-staff, were reported to be highly acceptable among survey and focus group participants. Focus group discussions revealed that the PRONTO! model reduced anxiety associated with HIV testing and created a comfortable environment conducive to discussing sexual risk and health. However, an absence of STI testing at PRONTO!, driven by restrictions on medical subsidies for STI testing and limited funds available at the service level created a barrier to HIV testing. An overwhelming majority of PRONTO! clients reported usually testing for STIs alongside HIV and most reported plans to seek STI testing after testing for HIV at PRONTO!. When deciding where, when and what to test for, clients reported balancing convenience and relative risk and consequences for each infection as guiding their decision-making.
CONCLUSIONS: A community-based and peer-led HIV testing model reduced previously reported barriers to HIV testing, while introducing new barriers. The absence of STI testing at PRONTO! and the need to access multiple services for comprehensive sexual health screening, created a significant service engagement barrier for some clients. Understanding client motivations to access testing and ensuring novel service models meet client needs is crucial for developing acceptable sexual health services for high-risk populations.