Health advocates have welcomed the approval of HIV self-test kits in Australia, as the federal government announces a new HIV prevention strategy and funding for a new HIV drug ahead of World AIDS Day this Saturday.
Australia’s first HIV home-testing kit was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on Wednesday, allowing anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to HIV to test themselves at home, rather than making a trip to the GP or sexual health clinic.
The Atomo Self Test, a single-use rapid finger stick test that can detect HIV antibodies and give a result within 15 minutes, will become available online – but not in pharmacies – in the next few months.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell said the self-testing kits were an important step forward and “the missing piece of puzzle” in the fight against HIV.
“Sadly, stigma and embarrassment still prevents many people testing for HIV,” he said.
“The arrival of this self testing device is a critical step in removing a barrier to people knowing their status.
“Self testing will add significant momentum to Australian HIV prevention efforts. Once people know they are HIV positive, they can commence treatment which keeps them well and prevents transmission to others.”
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill welcomed the announcement, but said they would lobby for the self-testing kits to be available in pharmacies.
“Restricting the sales to online means it still creates some barriers,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We need to be increasing the range of options for testing and giving people autonomy to test themselves is a good step.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the TGA’s approval of the kits on Thursday morning at a parliamentary breakfast in Canberra to mark World AIDS Day.
Mr Hunt also announced the government would list new HIV drug Juluca on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from this Saturday.
Juluca, which was approved by the TGA in July, combines two drugs into a single pill to treat HIV.
The drug currently costs $10,800 a year but the PBS listing will reduce the cost to $39.50 per script or $6.40 for concession card holders.
Funding for Eight National HIV Strategy
Mr Hunt announced the government would allocate $5 million to implement the National Blood Borne Virus and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategies, including the Eighth National HIV Strategy which aims to “virtually eliminate HIV transmission in Australia by 2022”.
“The Eighth National HIV Strategy will be the roadmap to help further reduce new infections and improve health outcomes,” Mr Hunt said.
“Its goals include virtually eliminating HIV transmission in Australia by 2022, reducing mortality and morbidity related to HIV and supporting those living with HIV by reducing stigma and discrimination.”
Mr O’Donnell welcomed Mr Hunt’s committment and said it was an “ambitious” but “achievable” goal.
“The community-led HIV response welcomes Minister Hunt’s commitment to virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2022,” he said.
“This is an ambitious goal, but with co-operation and determination, it is certainly achievable.”
Australia recorded 963 HIV notifications last year, the lowest annual number of notifications since 2010.
Experts attributed the drop to the rapid uptake of prevention pill PrEP, which was listed on the PBS earlier this year.
But data released in September showed rates of HIV transmission had risen among heterosexual men and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.