HIV home-testing could diagnose virus in regional and remote patients

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Self-testing kits could be the key to diagnosing HIV in regional residents, a leading health researcher has said.

Burnet Institute HIV research head Mark Stoové said while the number of people getting tested for STIs, including HIV, was increasing, as was the frequency of people’s sexual health check-ups, geographic and social barriers still discouraged people outside cities from getting screened.  

“What we're doing is good, and is helping to control the epidemic, but the changes are not significant enough to really start bringing down the rate of transmissions,” Mr Stoové said.

More than 1000 Australians are still diagnosed with HIV every year. 

Finding “gay-friendly” health providers with whom sexual behaviour could be discussed comfortably was the biggest roadblock to regional people getting tested, Mr Stoové said. 

The researcher suggested HIV home-testing devices, which use a finger prick or oral swab to diagnose HIV, were a way to overcome barriers stopping people in regional areas from accessing sexual health check-ups. 

While self-testing devices can be purchased online from overseas, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has not approved any for distribution in Australia.  

The method is popular in other developed countries, including the UK, where more than 27,000 kits were sold in the 10 months before February, 2016.  

Three-quarters of those purchases came from people living outside cities.

Mr Stoove conceded there were challenges that came with self-testing, like making sure support was available for people who returned a positive result. 

He envisaged a online distribution system that could follow up with people who ordered a self-testing kit. He said selling the kits over the counter did not offer the same possibility. 

He also said “lateral flow” tests, which take blood from a finger prick, were preferable to oral testing devices, which were more likely to return a false negative.

But even if the TGA registered the device, users would still have to pay full price unless health authorities subsidised the cost. 

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