A utility evaluation of SD BIOLINE HIV/Syphilis Duo (Alere) and DPP® HIV-Syphilis Assay (Chembio) for the screening of HIV & syphilis in men who have sex with men will take place in the non-clinical settings of four COBATEST Network members (Gais Positius Barcelona, Legebitra Ljubljana, Baltic HIV Association, Alliance Global Kiev) and one associated member (HF Prévention Paris). Read the protocol.

Four of five sites have already begun recruitment and last week Laura Fernández from CEEISCAT visited three of the sites with representatives from the WHO to complete follow-up. The preliminary results are due to be ready by the end of 2019

The COBATEST Network Steering Committee convened for the first time on the 19 November, coinciding with the meeting to launch the new COBATEST Network and AIDS Action Europe collaboration. The committee consists of community actors Lella Cosmaro (Lila Milano) Daniel Simoes (GAT Portugal) Sebastian Meyer (DEVO Network) and Andrey Chernyshev (Alliance Global Ukraine), AIDS Action Europe representatives Michael Krone and Christos Krasidis and CEEISCAT representatives Laura Fernandez and Jordi Casabona. The minutes from the meeting are available here.

On the 14-15 May 2018, the COBATEST Network members’ meeting was held in Barcelona and the 2017 report was launched. It was a great opportunity for members to meet eachother and share experiences of using the COBATEST data collection tool as well as their services, especially in the areas of PrEP and ChemSex.

See what we discussed in the summary and the presentations below –

Introduction – Joan Colom, Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCat)
European Testing Week – Lauren Combs, CHIP
Community Testing in Europe: WHO Objectives – Elena Vovc, WHO Regional Office for Europe
Past, Present and Future: The COBATEST Network – Jordi Casabona, CEEISCAT
Results from the COBATEST Network 2017 – Anna Conway, CEEISCAT
WHO study of Combined PoC Tests in CBVCTs – Laura Fernàndez López, CEEISCAT
COBA-Cohort – Nicolas Lorente, CEEISCAT
Quality Assessment of data in the COBATEST Network – Juliana Reyes Ureña, CEEISCAT
Rede de Rastreio, A National CBVCT Network – Paula Meireles, ISPUP

PrEP Services
Alliance Global – Andriy Radetsky
Checkpoint LX – Miguel Rocha
Czech AIDS Help Society – Ivo Procházka
Deutsche AIDS Hilfe – Michael Tappe
AthCheckpoint Greece – Sophocles Chanos

ChemSex Services
Alliance Global – Andriy Radetsky
StopSIDA – Luis Villegas
AthCheckpoint Greece – Sophocles Chanos

The COBATEST 2017 Report is now available – 36 of our members in 16 countries contributed their data.

In 2017, members reported 111,579 clients tested for HIV, 1,781 for Hepatitis and 6,643 for syphilis. The percentage of reactive HIV tests among members varied from 0.0% to 4.9% (GENDERDOC-M in Moldova), with an average of 1.3%.

Key populations (MSM, SW, PWID and migrants) are more likely than the general population to be returning for testing in the same CBVCT within 12 months and the proportion is especially high in SW and transgender people. This indicates that CBVCT services are catering to people who face barriers in accessing mainstream health services.

The types of services that members offer are expanding, and many now test for HIV, HCV, syphilis and more. To better reflect this reality we will start asking for data on syphilis and HCV testing in the aggregated submission form. The alarmingly high proportion of reactive tests among the few transgender people that were tested emphasises the need to collect good data on this population so that CBVCTs can better tailor services.

There are reporting gaps in some of the data collected, particularly data on confirmatory tests. This gap is largest amongst migrants, reflecting difficulties in performing follow-up with this group.

The data collected through the COBATEST Network is of high quality and useful in informing decisions within the organisation, at the national and the European level. In spite of this, most national surveillance systems are still not including CBVCT data in their testing statistics.

Read the full report here.

The first results of the COBA-Cohort, a project associated with the COBATEST Network, are now available online. The study is a cohort of HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) tested for HIV in CBVCTs in six different countries. The partners (AIDES (France), AIDS Fondet (Denmark), Fondazione LILA Milano (Italy), GAT/CheckpointLX (Portugal), Legebitra (Slovenia) and Positive Voice/Athens-Thessaloniki Checkpoints (Greece)).

The COBA-Cohort finds that routine HIV testing is becoming normalised amongst men who have sex with men. Cohort participants most at-risk of HIV appear to be educated about the risks of HIV. This group are aware they are at higher risk, are more likely to know the HIV status of their partners and are more willing than other participants to potentially use PrEP in the future.

The data reported is based on a study period of between 15 and 24 months, depending on the study site. The cohort remains active so future publications will be based on a longer follow-up time and perhaps more participating CBVCTs. If your service offers HIV testing to MSM get in touch to find out more about how you can participate in the cohort.

A new publication in HIV Medicine finds that collecting standardised data from CBVCT services is useful and feasible. It confirms that the data collected through the COBATEST Network is an important source of information to ensure quality services along the HIV care cascade.

Using data collected in 2014-16 using the COBATEST standardised tool, these new results support evidence that CBVCT services are successful in diagnosing HIV in individuals in key populations, especially men who have sex with men, male sex workers, transgender people and people who inject drugs.

There has been improvement in the proportion of people who receive a reactive test result who are then linked to care, but the pathways for linkage to care still need improvements. To build on the success of CBVCTs increasing diagnosis in key populations, the publication calls for an increase in outreach activity.

The publication was made possible with the contributions of COBATEST Network members. You can access it here.

COBATEST member Association of HIV-Affected Women and their Families Demetra was forced to stop activity early in 2017 due to the Lithuanian Ministry of Health’s crackdown on community-based voluntary counselling and testing (CBVCT). Dr. Loreta Stoniene, Demetra’s Advocacy Officer, explains that although CBVCT recently resumed in Demetra, more challenges lie ahead.

In 2012, Demetra with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation began offering rapid HIV tests to increase the number of people in Lithuania who know their HIV status, particularly in risk groups. National statistics showed that more and more citizens were choosing to have a HIV test. In the five year period, Demetra along with partner organizations performed more than 80,000 rapid HIV tests, of which 1.3% was reactive. Demetra was only able to offer this rapid testing in the community by cooperating with a medical institution, a requirement of restrictive Lithuanian laws.

The success of Demetra’s rapid testing programme was interrupted in 2017 by the governmental institution the Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS, which claimed that Demetra was operating illegally. As a result of this and the legislative “grey zone”, rapid HIV testing in Lithuanian community-based organisations was banned in February.

International organizations and networks expressed concerns that the ban blocked access to services for the most vulnerable and would be detrimental to the control of the HIV epidemic. Soon 60 national and international organizations had signed an open letter to Minister of Health of the Republic of Lithuania demanding that rapid testing be made available again.

After five months of strong advocacy efforts, an interim victory was won. The Minister of Health signed amendments to the legal acts which allow HIV testing to be offered as before, through cooperation with medical facilities. In spite of all the barriers, Demetra began rapid HIV testing in community settings again on 1st September 2017.

This is just interim achievement. The next task is to ensure that non-medical staff in Lithuania can perform rapid HIV testing, like in other EU countries. Demetra hopes that EU projects will help with tools to persuade Lithuanian decision-makers to move away from the medical approach and guarantee acceptable services for vulnerable and/or non-insured population groups.

The  COBATEST Network is continuing to expand and now represents 52  community-based voluntary counselling and testing (CBVCT) services  across Europe. In 2016, COBATEST members performed 72,049 HIV tests with  1.1% reactive results. In 2016, 37.5% of people tested in COBATEST  members reported that the visit was their first time testing for HIV.

To keep all COBATEST members updated we have launched the cobatest.org website.

Cobatest.org will have news from members as well as publishing  reports related to the Network. There will also be a section with  opportunities for training and grants that could be of interest to our  members.

While we continue to update the website, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook.