Australia’s AIDS councils will reconsider seeking access to rapid HIV and syphilis tests over the next six months following the introduction of the 10 to 20-minute tests in New Zealand.

Last week the New Zealand AIDS Foundation added rapid syphilis testing to its existing rapid HIV testing facilities to encourage more people to be aware of their status and seek treatment if necessary.

Since there is research which directly links an increased risk of HIV transmission to syphilis, early detection and treatment is another weapon in our fight against HIV infection, NZAF positive health manager Eamonn Smythe said.

He said the rapid syphilis test was 99 percent accurate and needed only a finger prick. Since the introduction of the rapid HIV test last year, NZAF has seen a significant rise in the number of gay men requesting tests.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations acting executive director Simon Donohoe said Australia had a much higher rate of HIV and STI testing than NZ, so the same benefits may not apply.

There was a review of Australia’s HIV testing guidelines a couple of years ago and at that point the issue of rapid testing was discussed but wasn’t supported outside of clinical settings in specific circumstances. And home testing wasn’t supported at all, Donohoe said.

Developers of the rapid tests haven’t applied for an Australian licence yet, Donohoe said, but if the new policy by AFAO’s member organisations supported the use of the tests then the developers would likely make that application.

He anticipated that review would be completed by the end of the year.

The reason I don’t think it’s been fast tracked or pushed for is that of all the developed western nations, testing rates in Australia are the highest among men who have sex with men and gay men, in the 80 percent plus, Donohoe said.

But that’s not to say the utility of a rapid test wouldn’t be welcomed by gay men.

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