The Victorian Government has announced a new bill aimed at driving down stigma and discrimination when it comes to HIV by making testing more accessible.
Legislation introduced into the state parliament today will amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 so that a greater range of medical professionals can carry out standard HIV tests for those who want one, removing an outdated requirement that only eligible GPs can conduct the tests and bringing Victoria in line with the National HIV Testing Policy.
They added that it can be particularly difficult for regional Victorians, who may have to travel long distances to do so.
Currently, Victorians can access blood tests for a range of blood borne viruses just by visiting their local health clinic, GP or pathology service. These changes will mean HIV testing is treated exactly the same.
“These are outdated regulations and they need to change. We’re taking action so that people who need an HIV test can do so without fear—just like tests for a range of other viruses or conditions,” said Minister for Equality Martin Foley.
The bill removes a barrier to the expansion of cost-effective peer-led testing models such as the Thorne Harbour Health peer-led community based rapid HIV testing service PRONTO!, so that a greater range of organisations can facilitate more flexible and welcoming testing options.
The new legislation will also remove antiquated requirements that require that medical practitioners or other health professionals can only carry out tests for HIV or advise people of their results once they have provided prescribed information relating to the medical and psychosocial consequences of the test and the meaning of possible results of the test.
Victoria is the only jurisdiction in the country to impose requirements on who may conduct HIV testing.
A spokesperson said that by singling out HIV for special requirements, the provisions have contributed to stigmatised views of the virus.
“This is a small change but it will make a world of difference when it comes to reducing the stigma attached to HIV,” said Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos.
The legislation has the support of the key stakeholders including Thorne Harbour Health, Living Positive Victoria, Family Planning Victoria, the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and the Burnet Institute.
To increase HIV prevention efforts, the state Labor Government increased funding by $2.3 million over four years in the 2015–16 budget to support the PRONTO! rapid HIV testing service, which has provided over 13,000 HIV tests to date.