CHECKING for HIV infection could soon become as easy as testing for pregnancy with the Federal Government announcing plans to increase access to kits that allow people to test at home.

Australian organisations at the coalface of HIV have welcomed the initiative, which is part of the government’s new blood borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections strategy.

Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton, and his Victorian counterpart David Davis, launched the strategy this morning in Melbourne with the city due to play host to the global AIDS 2014 conference in a matter of weeks.

“We are united in meeting common goals – working towards Australia being free of HIV and other blood borne viruses and ensuring effective prevention, early detection and treatment,” Davis said.

A restriction preventing the manufacture and sale of HIV home self-testing kits has already been removed, Dutton said, but any kits would have to meet Australian standards before they could be sold to consumers.

“Home self-testing provides an additional testing option that complements current options and allows people living with HIV to learn their HIV status and seek appropriate treatment and support,” he said.

“It also overcomes some of the common concerns people have about receiving the test in a medical setting and gives them more choice.”

In April, the chief executive of health body ACON told the Star Observer home testing kits were “crucial to achieving the scale of testing required.”

The government also announced $16.2 million of funding to improve access to HIV therapies with a relaxing of restrictions opening up the possibility of picking up mediations at local pharmacies.

“This better reflects the desire of many Australians to receive care in the community rather than a hospital,” Dutton said.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director Rob Lake said the government’s aim to end new HIV infections by 2020 was “a strong target, and one embraced by all members of Australia’s HIV partnership”.

“By lifting the restriction on HIV home tests and improving access to medication, the Government has taken a decisive step towards achieving this goal,” he said.

“We must support additional prevention options as well as condom use, make treatments better and simpler and preserve the gains in legal and human rights protections that have brought us globally acknowledged success in limiting the impact of HIV in Australia.”

The Scarlet Alliance said maintaining low rates of HIV amongst sex workers will require continued support for community led prevention programs.

“Sex workers have contributed to Australia’s response through the uptake of condoms and the implementation of safe sex practices with clients,” chief executive Janelle Fawkes said.

However, she added that “significant legal barriers” for sex workers remained: “It is well recognised that the legal empowerment of sex worker communities is essential to an effective HIV response.

“Yet criminalisation and police approaches, including use of condoms as evidence of sex work, continue to create barriers to delivery of health promotion programs.”

 (Main image: The home testing kit that has already been approved in the US)

 

 

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