A LEADING sexual health academic has called on the government to fast track approvals for HIV home testing kits, arguing Australia is “playing catch up” when it comes to increasing testing rates among gay men.

Last week, Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton announced a restriction preventing the manufacture and sale of HIV home self-testing kits in Australia had been removed as part of the government’s new sexually transmitted infections strategy.

“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,” Dutton said.

However, due to an onerous approval regime, the only home testing kits currently available are through clinical trials.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Associate Professor Garrett Prestage of the Kirby Institute at  University of NSW said the government green light was welcome, “but long overdue and Australia is still playing catch up” to the US, UK and France where kits are already on sale.

Prestage said self-testing kits – which generally involve a simple mouth swab – were one of the clearest ways Australia could meet its HIV testing targets.

However, their sale depended on kit manufacturers, most of whom are based overseas, being willing to go through the costly and time-consuming approval process for a relatively small market.

Even if a manufacturer came forward, it was unlikely any kits would be available in chemists before 2015.

“These kits have been demonstrated internationally to work so I would like to see the approval process expedited in some way,” said Prestage, to encourage manufacturers to come forward.

In the meantime, Prestage encouraged gay men to sign onto the Kirby Institute’s HIV home testing kit trial which is being conducted in Melbourne, Sydney and Cairns.

More than 300 people are already part of the FORTH study, which is being run in partnership with a number of different sexual health bodies including ACON and the Victorian AIDS Council.

“We’re very keen that guys who take part in high risk activities make use of the trial so we can collect information on how the kits are used in practice and what support is needed,” Prestage said.

Meanwhile, acting shadow minister for health, Jan McLucas, has told the Star Observer GP co-payments could undo much of the work contained in last week’s strategy.

“Labor welcomes the fact that the Abbott government has adopted many of the policies we started in government [but] to be effective this Strategy needs to be properly resourced, and supported by a strong, accessible health system,” McLucas said.

“People living with HIV will be amongst the worst hit by the cuts and new charges in the Abbott government’s first budget.”

Information on the FORTH self-testing kit study can be found here.

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


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