HIV researchers and advocacy groups want Australia to fast-track the approval of home-testing kits as part of the effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
The kits have been available online for several years but have yet to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
New research has found the kits could be especially useful for people from sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. These groups consistently record the highest rates of HIV diagnoses in Australia by region of birth and often do not find out they have acquired the virus for several years.
Lead author Ms Corie Gray, from the School of Public Health at Curtin University, said people born in sub-Saharan Africa and North East and South East Asia have consistently recorded the highest rates of HIV diagnoses in Australia by region of birth.
“Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of HIV notifications among people born in sub-Saharan Africa and North East and South East Asia,” Ms Gray said.
“Just under half of these HIV notifications occur at a late stage, or more than four years after HIV has been acquired, meaning early diagnosis is critical to ensuring people receive the most effective treatment and support.”
Suzy Malhotra, acting chief executive of community group Living Positive Victoria, said that home-test kits have a potential role to play in diagnosing HIV, but counselling and support are critical.
“Home testing is an option. We’re still a way from it being sanctioned completely,” she said.
“I think the priority is ensuring that people have access to services… pre- and post-test counselling, to know that they’re in a safe environment.
“If a positive test is obtained they can share that and receive support from other peers and people living with HIV.”
Dr Bridget Haire, president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) emphasised that 5.1 million people in the Asia Pacific region are living with HIV, and less than half of those have access to antiretroviral drugs.
“Much of it is about access to testing, so if people don’t recognise themselves to be at risk, they don’t necessarily know their HIV status,” she said.
“So I guess when you’re estimating the total number of people living with HIV, that includes people who haven’t actually tested positive yet.”
Dr Haire supports the calls for TGA approval of self-testing kits, saying it would give people peace of mind because they would know the tests met Australian standards and the testing kit would come with the correct follow-up information if someone were to obtain a preliminary result that suggested they had acquired the virus.
“Instead of you getting a reactive test and freaking out, because it’s going to be an affecting emotional experience … all of the right information is there at your fingertips so you can get in contact with somebody who can talk to you,” she said.
“If you’re ordering something over the internet, it might be giving you an address of a medical clinic in, I don’t know, in Zimbabwe or something, which is not going to be very helpful for you if you’re in Dubbo.”
The Curtin University research was based on interviews with 11 GPs and 11 focus groups with 77 participants across four Australian states who were born in various countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, South Sudan and Somalia.
More than a quarter of new HIV notifications in Australia are late diagnoses, meaning the person was likely living with HIV for at least four years before being testing.