New and innovative projects involving the use of artificial intelligence (AI) chat bots, cartoon strips, night shelters and smart testing kits are among 14 schemes to benefit from a pioneering new fund to boost engagement and outreach activity to reduce sexual health inequalities across England, the UK Health Security Agency has announced today.
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, all with the aim of boosting engagement and outreach activity to reduce sexual health inequalities in underserved LGBTQ+ communities.
Each community based, voluntary sector organisation has been awarded up to £30,000 as part of the £200,000 Mpox and Sexual Health (STI and HIV) Outreach and Engagement Activity Fund to enable this.
In the South West, The Eddystone Trust have been awarded £7,500 to engage directly with LGBTQ+ individuals creating a peer-to-peer model that will equip people to deliver informal interventions and provide safer sex resources on sexual health, HIV and Mpox in Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon, Torbay, Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Examples of other projects receiving funding include:
– Increasing knowledge and access to sexual health information and testing among GBMSM and Bangladeshi GBMSM in eight north east London boroughs via a sexual health chatbot, designed to help answer basic questions about testing for HIV and STIs.
– Producing an mpox cartoon strip, focusing on the fictional experiences of one man, alongside a related animation short and GIFs for use across social media, promoting sexual health and mpox vaccination within London.
– Targeted vaccination events to reach minority groups with mpox vaccination. Including offering access to other relevant vaccinations and access to STI testing and HIV testing via Sexual Health London ‘smart’ kits.
– Supporting those who are struggling to adhere to HIV medications or who are anxious about getting tested with enhanced support for people who are concerned about their sexual health or about accessing local services.
– Delivering a series of tailored community based mpox and STI screening clinics in accessible, non-clinical settings such as at pride festivals and at music venues.
– Delivering a community workshop with the goal of understanding how to effectively engage with LGBTQ+ people at increased risk of mpox and other STIs, focusing on digital engagement, community outreach and resources for individuals from most at-risk populations.
– Developing resources on STIs and HIV prevention for Black African GBMSM in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham with culturally appropriate resources and messaging.
Kate Folkard, Head of Programme Delivery for Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses at UKHSA, said: “The innovation and reach of voluntary and community sector organisations is a vital piece in the puzzle of how we effectively tackle sexual health inequality across England. These 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.
“These organisations are the experts in their own communities and this fund will help further engage underserved populations and work with them to protect their health. I’m eager to see their innovative programmes come to fruition and we will work closely with them to help share the learning from their work across the country.”
James Mead, Development Lead for Prevention at The Eddystone Trust said:“We are extremely delighted to have been awarded this money. We recognise the importance of volunteers within the community and the role they play in advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.
“This project will equip individuals with the confidence needed to start conversations around sexual health, and the knowledge and skills to deliver effective sexual health interventions.”
Minister for Equalities, Stuart Andrew, said: “We’re determined to ensure that LGBTQ+ people have access to the healthcare and protections that they need.
“I’m delighted that the government has been able to fund this initiative and work with UKHSA to identify the necessary expertise that will make a real difference.
“It’s great to see so many innovative proposals and I know that LGBTQ+ individuals will benefit from the increased outreach of vital public health messaging.”
Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, Neil O’Brien, said: “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.
“We are taking further action to address disparities in sexual health by providing £4 million for our National HIV Prevention Programme, and more than £3.4 billion to local authorities through the Public Health Grant to invest in essential frontline services.”
This funding will help ensure more people are aware of the risks surrounding mpox and their sexual health, enabling greater access to sexual health services and empowering people to manage their own health and protect others.
It will also help address issues such as inequalities in access to mpox vaccination, uptake of vaccination for other sexually transmitted infections and blood borne viruses, in particular HAV, HBV and HPV and address the wider determinants of health behaviours that increase the risk of HIV and STI acquisition, such as mental health and drugs and alcohol.
Sexual health inequality remains a major public health issue in England and in the last year has been further challenged by the global outbreak of mpox. 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.
Projects and spend will need to be complete by 31 March 2023.
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