Read the original article (page 15) and the January issue of Star Observer here: Star Observer January 2021
Dr Mark Choong, a general practitioner at Recreation Medical Centre who specialises in men’s health and sexual health has been working in the field of HIV for over 15 years.
“Starting at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, I branched out to community health centres, like GP practice, that is more focused on LGBTIQ health. I’ve done that for over 15 years now,” he said. “I’ve worked here [Recreation Medical Centre] for more than a decade. Over 50% of my patient demographic is LGBTIQ.”
As a GP, Dr Mark Choong has been involved in a broad range of health areas ranging from drug and alcohol at the North Yarra Community Health Service to indigenous health at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. Currently, as an HIV GP specialist, he is also working as a regular PEP and PrEP prescriber. PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) consists of medications taken within 72 hours of high risk exposure ( e.g. unprotected anal intercourse) to prevent HIV transmission and is taken for 28 days. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), on the other hand, is a drug usually taken daily to help prevent HIV infection before exposure.
“Prep is an important tool to prevent HIV transmission but people do need to be careful since it does not prevent STIs,” Dr Choong added.
Patients are advised to get tested at two time points after starting PEP. The first test at six weeks can detect early HIV infection. If the test is positive, early detection has the benefit of being able to start HIV treatment as soon after infection as possible. The second test at 12 weeks covers the window period. If this test is negative, the PEP follow-up is complete. Dr Choong recommends regular three monthly testing for sexually active men who have sex with men.
“Today, I worked with a 22-year old patient who is struggling with coming out. I’ve been working with the community for such a long time, so I am able to empathise and offer help in a non-judgemental environment to deal with such issues” he added.
Dr Choong is also working on reducing HIV stigma and raising HIV awareness. HIV stigma, which involves discrimination or prejudice against people with HIV, should be considered in the context of existing stigma towards other related issues, like drug use and sexual identity. The national theme in Australia for World AIDS Day 2020 was Now More than Ever. Dr Choong has risen to the occasion by educating the community about HIV, especially among people who are from different socio-economic, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. He encourages the use of PrEP and PEP as prevention strategies, ensuring that people with HIV can fully participate in the life of the community, without stigma. According to the Kirby institute, male-to-male sex is one of the most common routes to HIV transmission, accounting for 84% of HIV transmission in Australia.
Besides practicing in sexual health, Dr Choong has also been working as a cosmetic physician since 2006. He has a special interest in anti-wrinkle injections and face sculpting fillers. He works with Sculptra for treatment of HIV-related lipoatrophy, a condition characterised by loss of subcutaneous fat associated with HIV infection. This syndrome can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, both physically and psychologically. The overall prevalence of physician-assessed lipodystrophy was 53%, with the face being the most frequently reported affected site, according to the HIV Medicine journal.
If you would like to reach out to Dr Choong, he is available for phone consultations and face-to-face appointments from Monday to Friday at Recreation Medical Centre. Besides English, Dr Choong also consults in fluent Cantonese. The clinic welcomes people from diverse backgrounds and sexual orientations and aims to provide medical care to the community in a safe, confidential, and non-judgemental environment.
Recreation Medical Centre is located at 1232 High Street, Armadale, Victoria. Book an appointment online at www.recmedical.com or contact 03 9509 5922.