Home-testing kits for HIV will soon be available in Australia after Health Minister Peter Dutton announced he was lifting restrictions on their sale in a bid to increase early diagnosis of the virus.
Mr Dutton said manufacturers of the oral swab tests could apply to Australia’s regulatory authority for approval to distribute them following their successful introduction overseas, including in the US.
He said tests meeting Australian standards could be sold directly to consumers, including through pharmacies, allowing people to get treatment sooner and stop the virus spreading.
The HIV strategy includes a goal to virtually eliminate new HIV infections in Australia by 2020.
Therapeutic Goods Administration national manager John Skerritt said the home HIV tests worked by detecting antibodies in oral fluid that were produced by people infected with the virus.
‘‘A small purple band appears to show the antibody is present and you are therefore likely to have HIV. It’s like a home pregnancy test,’’ he said.
Professor Skerritt said people using the tests in the US, where they sold for about $40, were referred to a 24-hour hotline which provided information and support.
Alfred Hospital director of infectious diseases Sharon Lewin said the home tests would be a ‘‘new way of doing business in Australia’’ where testing had always been carried out by a medical practitioner in a clinic.
‘‘As a community we will have to work hard to ensure there is adequate follow up and support for anyone with a positive diagnosis,’’ Professor Lewin said.
‘‘Last year there were 1200 new infections across Australia, which is the highest number in the last decade ... so we need to do things differently and part of that is making testing and treatment more accessible.’’
Mr Dutton said changes to prescribing and dispensing arrangements for antiretroviral medicines subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme would allow patients easier access to HIV treatments from July next year.
Medicines have previously been available only through hospital pharmacies, but Mr Dutton said the changes would allow patients to collect them at a pharmacy of their choice.
National Association of People with HIV president Robert Mitchell welcomed the changes and said he hoped the new target to virtually eliminate HIV transmissions by 2020 would ‘‘help galvanise Australia’s HIV response’’.
The announcements come ahead of the 20th International AIDS conference to be held in Melbourne later this month.