In a drive to improve sexual health and HIV outcomes, the Government has given funding for innovative projects to trial new ways of reaching these goals.
Funding of £200,000 has been issued to organisations spanning the breadth of England with successful community-based, voluntary sector organisations having been awarded up to £30,000 each as part of the mpox and Sexual Health (STI and HIV) Outreach and Engagement Activity Fund.
"Sexual health inequality remains a major public health issue in England," the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said, a situation which in the last year had been further challenged by the global outbreak of mpox. It went on to proclaim that it is going to "work with community organisations" across England to deliver innovative projects for LGBTQ+ groups.
"While case numbers have now dropped significantly - with no new cases identified since December - the outbreak highlighted the challenges of effectively reaching and engaging with underserved groups, including those at highest risk, so they see important public health messaging and access services and vaccinations for sexually transmissible infections where needed," the Agency said.
Minister for Equalities, Stuart Andrew, said: "We’re determined to ensure that LGBTQ+ people have access to the healthcare and protections that they need." He added that it was "great to see so many innovative proposals".
Chat Bots, Cartoon Strips, Smart Testing, and More
Projects will offer services, including vaccinations in community settings, such as pubs and music festivals, raising awareness of sexual health issues at sex on premises venues, and communications to reduce anxiety around the mpox vaccine.
Artificial intelligence (AI) chat bots, cartoon strips, night shelters, and smart testing kits are just some of the 14 schemes set to benefit from the funding.
The Government hopes to score a boost in engagement and outreach activity, with a resultant reduction in sexual health inequalities, in underserved LGBTQ+ communities across England, a UKHSA spokesperson explained.
One organisation, Love Tank, that has received £25,000 in funding, plans to undertake 'under-the-radar' events and hoped to reach hundreds of individuals in non-clinical settings with mpox vaccination. Where possible, it also hoped to offer access to other relevant vaccinations, such as Hep A and COVID-19, and access to STI testing and HIV testing via Sexual Health London 'smart' kits.
Dr Will Nutland, founder of PrEPster and the Love Tank, said that the funding would be used to "reach key groups of eligible people to receive mpox vaccination through community vaccination events", and will help to "address a key health inequality in this important area".
Denis Onyango, programmes director at Africa Advocacy, expressed delight at being one of the recipients of the fund. He explained that the grant of £21,285 will "make it possible for us to develop culturally appropriate resources, leadership, and capacity around STI and HIV prevention, testing, and linkage to care for Black gay and bisexual men-who-have-sex-with-men in South London".
A cartoon strip about promoting sexual health/mpox vaccination is what the Gay Men's Health Collective will use some of its £10,000 funding to produce for use in greater London. Birmingham LGBT will use its awarded £5,040 to film four interviews with GBMSM individuals from the South Asian, African, African Caribbean, and Eastern European populations within the LGBTQ+ community who have accessed the HIV/STI testing service and mpox vaccination program. The four interviewees will serve as role models for others within these underserved populations, to help target under-represented GBMSM individuals.
Length and Breadth
Further north in Leeds, Bradford, Rotherham, and Hull, MESMAC will use its£21,104 funding to focus outreach on GBMSM men with multiple sexual partners, who are at higher risk of mpox, HIV, and STI transmission, and who have not attended a clinic in the past 12 months. A spokesperson for MESMAC said that they will deliver a series of "tailored" community-based mpox and STI screening clinics, which will be supported by outreach in bars and other LGBTQ+ venues.
The Brunswick Centre, which received £6,808, will deliver three pop-up community-based clinics in Kirklees, providing HIV point of care testing, sexual health screening, mpox, hepatitis A&B, and HPV vaccines, as well as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) provision, to underserved LGBTQ+ communities.
Kate Folkard, head of programme delivery for sexual health and blood borne viruses at UKHSA, highlighted that the projects "span the length and breadth of the country", and will provide a "valuable set of resources" in England to build on the achievements already seen in the response to the mpox outbreak.
In the south west of England the Eddystone Trust will use its £7,500 to create a peer-to-peer model that will equip people to deliver informal interventions and provide safer sex resources on sexual health/HIV/mpox, and in the south east, the Brighton and Hove Switchboard, which received £7,293 of funding, will use social networks to release "regular and accurate information" for specific groups about testing and vaccination across Sussex, and promote the availability of one-to-one casework with individuals who are concerned about their sexual health or about accessing local services. They will also partner with a night shelter on a weekly basis to talk to guests about their services.
Ms Folkard emphasised that the "innovation and reach" of voluntary and community sector organisations was a "vital piece in the puzzle" of how effectively to tackle sexual health inequality across England.
Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, Neil O'Brien, emphasised that voluntary and community sector organisations play a "key role" in improving sexual health across the country. "It’s great to see this investment in innovative projects that are working to achieve this in their local area," he exulted.
Projects and spend will need to be complete by 31 March 2023.