A Queensland research team are set to make HIV testing kits available in two Brisbane vending machines in a pilot program to increase testing rates.
Experts estimate a majority of people with HIV (89%) are aware of their status but there are still a proportion of those who don’t know they have HIV.
Knowing your HIV positive status determines how quickly you can get on treatment, reduces comorbidities associated with late stage treatment, and once on treatment you can’t transmit HIV to others.
Pharmaceutical company Gilead Australia announced this week it had given $250,000 in grant money to six research projects, including the vending machine HIV test trial headed by University of Queensland Senior Research Fellow Dr Owain Williams.
The researchers are proposing the trialling of access to a saliva-based HIV testing kit through two vending machines in Brisbane, one located in a private sex-on-premises venue and one in a more public location.
The testing technology does not currently have market approval in Australia and Dr Williams’ study, which is currently going through ethics approval, is looking to find out if the kits are used by people who traditional testing hasn’t been able to reach.
“Currently about 11% of people who are HIV positive in Australia don’t know their status and this grant will go a long way towards helping to socialise and normalise HIV testing,” Dr Williams said.
“The real significance of this test is that it offers a cheaper way of screening, gives people a convenient and private way of testing, and reaches those people who otherwise may not become aware of their HIV status.”
In China, universities offer students cheap HIV testing kits (pictured) alongside soft drink and snack foods in vending machines in a bid to combat a rise in HIV rates and stigma around testing.
Australia’s first HIV home-testing kit was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration last Wednesday, allowing anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to HIV to test themselves at home.
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.
Nicholas Medland, from Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, was also awarded a Gilead Australia Fellowship this week for his study into new HIV diagnoses in Asian men who have sex with men, an identified at-risk population where HIV rates are still increasing despite a decline in diagnosis in Australian-born men who have sex with men.
Dr Paul Slade, Senior Director of Medical Affairs at Gilead Sciences, said all of the recipients of the fellowships have “patients at the heart” of their projects.
“The winners we have chosen are projects which we believe have the potential to make a huge difference to communities across Australia and further afield,” he said.
Last Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, which is a significant day for the LGBTIQ community each year.