Rapid HIV testing is closer than ever to becoming a reality nationwide after Queensland announced the rollout of a free rapid testing pack to sexual health clinics across the state.
The new testing method, which should be completely distributed by World AIDS Day on December 1, will allow people to know the results of a HIV blood test within 20 minutes, instead of up to a week as current testing methods require.
The test packs will be rolled out to sexual health clinics in Brisbane and major Queensland towns including Cairns, Townsville, Nambour and the Gold Coast before becoming more widely available in GP clinics.
Queensland is the first state to distribute the tests widely, although they have been available in sexual health clinics in New South Wales and Victoria for several months.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill called state government support “crucial” to effectively introducing rapid testing nationally.
“Regular testing is crucial to reducing HIV transmission rates because the speed and convenience of rapid testing encourages more people to get tested more regularly,” Parkhill said.
“ACON and the Australian HIV sector have been advocating for the introduction of rapid HIV testing for many years.”
Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) president Michael Williams also welcomed the news, saying the rapid testing method “empowered” people to manage their own health.
“With the commitment of the Victorian and NSW governments to rapid testing, we are seeing an unstoppable trend to making the testing accessible everywhere,” Williams said.
“Every state and territory should provide rapid testing as soon as possible because it is central to ending the epidemic.”
HIV infection rates have doubled in Queensland in the last ten years, raising concerns about the impact of recent Queensland state government plans to cut funding and services to sexual health clinics.
The push for rapid testing gained momentum last year after a damning report by Australia’s main HIV/AIDS organisations found Australia’s response to the epidemic had stalled due to ineffective communication and a lack of strong leadership.
In December the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved a rapid HIV testing package for supply to sexual health clinics, a move that was welcomed by federal and state governments looking to set tangible HIV rate reduction targets.
However, the test will not be available for sale for use in private homes, remaining in the hands of medical professionals and clinicians. The testing packs can be sent to private homes in the United Kingdom, but domestically the TGA has not approved their use outside medical centres.