On World AIDS Day 2016, Burnet Institute Associate Professor Mark Stoové is urging the introduction of HIV self-testing kits to improve the rate of HIV testing among high-risk groups and curb the incidence of new diagnoses in Australia.
Associate Professor Stoové, Burnet’s Head of HIV Research, believes that without radical innovations to HIV testing models, Australia is unlikely to reach its HIV testing targets.
He’s concerned that fixed site rapid testing services will be unable to meet demand, and regards self-test kits as the best way to address the need for high-risk men in the gay community to test at high frequency.
“If we can get a large majority of high-risk gay men testing every three months, we stand a very good chance of dramatically reducing HIV numbers, and home testing, in my opinion, is the only way to do that,” Associate Professor Stoové said.
“We are not going to get the HIV testing coverage or get frequency of testing high enough using fixed site services, and clinics just don’t have the capacity to test 10,000 high-risk gay men every three months.
“Some of our high caseload clinics essentially have closed books, and that’s one of the main barriers gay men identify, finding convenient times and locations to test.
“What we need to do is put the test kits in the hands of the community and allow them to test at home.”
While HIV self-test kits have been available in the U.S. for 20 years and in Britain since April last year, several tests are only now being developed for trial in Australia following the release of Therapeutic Goods Administration guidelines in 2014.
In Britain there was a major uptake in non-metropolitan areas, and there’s every prospect that trend would be replicated here with huge potential benefits for high-risk men in regional Australia.
“In the UK they approved a finger prick self-test that’s the same as a diabetes test where you check your blood sugar at home and get a result on the spot,” Associate Professor Stoové said. “That’s the kind of kit we need here.”
“Australia was a decade behind the rest of the world in relation to the introduction of rapid point-of-care tests, and we don’t want to make the same mistake with self-testing.
“We actually have the opportunity to lead the world in thinking about these models of care. We don’t want to wait another 10 years while others are moving on before self- testing is introduced. The key is to get a quality test onto the market.”
According to The Kirby Institute Annual Surveillance Report, 1,025 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Australia in 2015.
The annual number of new HIV diagnoses increased over the past 15 years from 719 diagnoses in 1999 to 1,081 in 2012.
The number of new HIV diagnoses in Australia has stabilised over the past three years, with 1,028 cases in 2013; 1,081 cases in 2014; and 1,025 in 2015.