HIV researchers say Australia should remain open-minded about home HIV testing.

This month the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an over-the-counter rapid HIV test which people can use to find out their HIV status with a self-administered test.

Since the approval, concerns have been raised in Australia over the effectiveness of the test and the lack of support for people who might get a positive test result while home alone.

A group of researchers, led by National Centre in HIV Social Research fellow Dr Martin Holt, said a more positive discussion on home testing is needed.

“It may not be the only solution, but the more options the better,” Hold told the Star Observer.

The home testing kit allows users to swab their upper and lower gums, then placing the swab into a vial of solution which can detect antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2. A result is then given in around 20 minutes.

Holt said home testing could be particularly effective for people who do not engage with health services and are unlikely to seek testing at all.

“Although gay men present for testing at far higher levels than their heterosexual peers, there is always a persistent group of men who have never tested for HIV or who don’t test as often as recommended (at least once a year),” Holt said.

“Research tells us that many men can’t get appointments in busy practices, [or] dislike the wait for test results or having to go to the doctor twice.

“Rapid ‘point-of-care’ tests … appear very popular, however home tests would give us another way to simplify testing and to encourage more people to know their HIV status.”

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) Executive Director Rob Lake said AFAO would not push for home testing as a priority until supervised rapid testing — which is currently being trialled in Australia, but is yet to receive the necessary licencing approvals — is introduced.

“We still haven’t got rapid testing; we’re still waiting on that approval … so that’s our priority,” Lake told the Star Observer.

“Down the track I’m sure there are people who would benefit from being able to do home testing, but at the moment there are some questions around the accuracy of the self-test and the results.

“We need to be cautious about that because these are self-administered and making sure someone doesn’t do it the wrong way or not long enough… and suddenly, by mistake, end up with a negative result. That’s a problem.”

Home testing for HIV is currently not allowed under Australia’s National HIV Testing Policy.

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