Rapid HIV Testing: it’s about time, leading Australian HIV researchers said at a National Centre in HIV Social Research conference.

Rapid HIV Testing (RHT) has been available in the United Kingdom, the United States and many non-Western countries for years, but the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Department of Health and Ageing have restricted its clinical use here, except in remote communities with limited access to laboratories.

Draft editions of the Sixth National HIV Strategy indicate that the Government may loosen these restrictions, although to what extent remains uncertain.

Researchers attending the 11th Social Research Conference on HIV in Sydney welcomed the prospect of wider RHT availability, but they qualified that the technology has limitations.

Compared to traditional HIV blood tests, RHT has a longer window before the virus can be detected.

“We will miss some new infections,” Dr David Wilson of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research said. “The benefit, though, would be that we could increase levels of testing, which overall could lead to less new infections.”

In a “worst-case scenario”, he said, around 13 new cases could be missed each year, although boosts in testing rates and the reduced waiting time to receive results would have hugely beneficial impacts on people’s behaviour.

Looking at overseas examples, NCHSR researcher Dr Martin Holt noted that “consumers reported high levels of satisfaction” with RHT, which is faster and less invasive than traditional tests.

ACON representative Yves Calmette referred to American evidence showing that RHT had helped people overcome fears around traditional testing and had led to increased frequency of testing.

“It is imperative for us to push for at least a pilot test,” Calmette concluded.

The discussion came as the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine marked 25 years of HIV testing in Australia.

“The sophistication of HIV testing has increased dramatically in the last 25 years,” ASHM CEO Levinia Crooks said.

“In most cases, laboratories can produce results much more quickly, and the window bwetween an HIV test and a positive diagnosis has narrowed significantly in the majority of instances.”

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