Australia-First HIV Home Test Could Help Curb Stigma

Health advocates have welcomed the approval of Australia's first HIV home-testing kit that could help to eliminate the transmission of the virus. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday announced the Atomo HIV Self Test had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

It's a single-use fingerprick test for use at home (rather than at the GP) that is expected to be available online for about $30 within three months.

Darryl O'Donnell, chief executive officer of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, said the device will make testing more accessible by removing a barrier to others knowing a person's status.

"Sadly, stigma and embarrassment still prevents many people testing for HIV," he said.

The approval of Australia's first HIV self-test means people can test themselves at home. Image: AAP

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, can progress to AIDS.

In 2017, more than 27,000 people were living with the virus in Australia. Around two-thirds of HIV diagnoses across the country came from sexual contact between men.

Rates in Australia have reached a seven-year low, according to a recent study, that is largely among gay and bisexual men.

But the research from the Kirby Institute noted a 10 percent rise in diagnoses among heterosexuals in 2017, about half of which are diagnosed four or more years after contracting the virus.

READ MORE: HIV Diagnoses Rates On The Rise For Heterosexual Australians

READ MORE: Vile Email Smear Shows HIV Stigma Still Alive In Australia 

Researchers earlier told 10 daily stigma is a main barrier that O'Donnell said can prevent people from taking an HIV test.

"Once people know they are HIV positive, they can commence treatment which keeps them well and prevents transmission to others," he said.

Minister Hunt said his government was taking "decisive action".

"A few short years ago, defeating HIV was seen as impossible but today we are on the cusp of eliminating the transmission of HIV," he said.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) has been hailed as a breakthrough in preventing the spread of HIV. ImageL Getty

The health minister also announced a medication that stops the virus replicating will be subsidised by the federal government from Saturday.

Juluca, a daily pill, will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on December 1, which is World AIDS Day.

Patients will pay a maximum of $39.50 per script, saving about $10,800 each year.

The HIV prevention effort in Australia and the Asia Pacific is an ongoing challenge.

According to UNAIDS data released ahead of World AIDS Day, about 5.2 million people are living with the virus, with just over more than half of those having access to lifesaving antiretroviral medicine.

The government will also commit $5 million to implement Australia's 'National Blood Borne Virus and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategies', including 'Eighth National HIV Strategy' that aims to virtually eliminate virus transmission by 2022.

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Featured image: AAP