Co-Founder and President, BCN Checkpoint
Community based clinics have proven their role in the earlier detection, treatment and support for people with infections such as HIV.
“We all are part of the solution,” says Michael Meulbroek, Co-Founder and President of BCN Checkpoint, a community-based sexual health service in Barcelona. Located in the heart of the Catalan city’s gay community since 2006, the service has helped many thousands of gay men infected with HIV to better health, as well as reducing infections within the wider gay male community.
Peer counselling and support, linked to same-day testing, confirmation and early access to medical care, are fundamental in helping people living with HIV to adopt an active and responsible approach to their condition. It will also ensure they are receiving the appropriate treatment quickly.
National HIV surveillance data indicate that BCN Checkpoint has been responsible for the detection of over a third of HIV diagnoses, facilitated by a four-fold increase in the number of persons presenting for yearly tests (between 2007 to 2012). It also reported a 23-fold increase in the number of people returning for a repeat test. Two long-term studies also show a 62% reduction in the incidence of HIV in the area.
For Meulbroek an important factor in the centre’s results is the support offered by its all-gay staff.
In Spain, as in many other countries, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people may fear stigma, homonegativity and discrimination from health care providers, which can discourage early take-up of prevention, testing, care and treatment. This encourages poorer health and societal outcomes for the infected person, as well as increases the ongoing infection risk within the wider gay community.
What people most want is to talk to somebody who has the same experience. And that, I think, is our greatest asset.
Meulbroek says: “In any pathology, physicians and psychologists…. are important. But in fact, what people most want is to talk to somebody who has the same experience. And that, I think, is our greatest asset.”
Over the past year BCN Checkpoint has added to its gay community support offer by providing PrEP (a drug treatment that can prevent HIV infection). It is also now offering testing and treatment for a range of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, and hepatitis A, B (and, soon, C) some of which can be asymptomatic in men.
PrEP is a very new treatment in Spain, but after just one year, BCN Checkpoint has around 1,400 men taking PrEP on its books, plus there is a long waiting list – again proving its value as a provider of public health, says Meulbroek. He concludes, “community initiatives are often considered second-class but in fact, we are creating a new model of intervention that is showing good results. And these good results should equate to adequate funding. “It’s time that the health service considered us equal partners in public health.”