For the first time, cheap, easy to use home testing kits are to made available. Also, access to treatment has been made much easier, with medications available from the local chemist rather than requiring a trip to hospital.nThe moves are part of the Australian government’s revamped national HIV strategy announced today, which sets a target of no new HIV infections by 2020.
Presenter: Tom Fayle
Rob Lake , the executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
LAKE: There’s a big push on HIV testing, on making it easier, making it simpler and just encouraging people to think about it more readily, particularly these people who you would consider at high risk, so in Australia, that’s gay men, people who may have travelled to a place where there’s a lot of HIV, come up and met someone there and so those are the factors we’re looking at, but the main thing we’re trying to do is just make HIV testing simpler.
FAYLE: So it’s aimed at people who would not normally avail themselves of testing then?
LAKE: Hmm, to an extend. I mean there’s a lot of HIV testing services around. The concern we have is for a range of reasons, it’s that people don’t access those, and so we’re looking at some other things to offer, that’s why making tests quicker, so rapid tests, where you get the result in half-an-hour, rather than having to wait a couple of weeks is one thing, but this next thing, which is actually about being able to test yourself when you want to and then inact on whatever happens then, that’s the next to try and make it easier.
So for people who for whatever reason haven’t wanted to get a standard test, we think this might make a difference.
FAYLE: There are concerns though, are there not, about home testing, the concerns about false positives and false negatives?
LAKE: So what we’ve concerned and like I say, these are initial tests, a result always has to be confirmed. One of the things that has to be really clear people is that there’s a process from when your body first gets exposed to the virus, to when a test is able to redefinitely say, yes or no, you have acquired HIV is a period of time, something probably over a month. So the first thing that people need to understand is that if I went out last night and had unsafe sex, there’s no test in the world that could tell me today whether I’d actually been exposed to the virus and that’s one of the things that’s most important to understand is that there is a period of time before any test is able to identify the virus in the body.
FAYLE: Cost, of course, is always a factor in these sorts of exercises. How much is the person who goes down to the pharmacy to get this test going to about of pocket?
LAKE: Oh, well the costs are pretty low. I mean $10, $15 a test. The question remains how it gets funded, whether it’s funded on the Medicare, which would be the ideal thing for us, because then it just sets a part, you can go to a clinic and pick one up there or something like that. Because …? bear in mind for depending on whose paying. If I’m going, if previously I went to get a standard HIV test, I’d pay to go the first time, then I’d pay to go to the doctor again to get the result. So we don’t have that second consultation cost now, so there’s a saving there that we’re hoping will be reflected in the way that it gets charged.
FAYLE: And what about the developing world. Will home testing kits, such as these, be applicable there?
LAKE: Yep, absolutely, partly because some of these things are still in trials, but they are sold cheaper in developing countries. I think, there’s some trials going on in South Africa and I think it’s $5 or $6 or something like that and bearing in mind, a lot of the other costs, it would probably stack up pretty well. Because the comparable test, which is taking blood, sending it off to a pathology lab, getting it tested somewhere, getting results back. There are a whole set of different test costs involved with that as well.
FAYLE: So you do see these sorts of tests being applicable to countries such as PNG, in our region?
LAKE: In our region, I would think so. They’re already in use across Africa and in parts of Asia. I’m not sure about PNG at the moment, but I know that rapid tests particularly, which are quick tests done in a clinic are in use across some parts of the Pacific, self-tests which would be about giving someone a test, going here, go home, do that, come back if anything happens, that would be another step, but there are no major barriers to them being used.
FAYLE: Now, what about the other key elements in the National HIV strategy that were announced today?
LAKE: I think one of the things that we’re really pleased about is the other big announcement for the HIV strategy is that for people with HIV who are on treatments, treatments will be much easier to get.
At the moment, if you’re HIV positive, you, every two months you have to go to a hospital to get your HIV medications and if you’re working and all that sort of stuff, that can be half a day gone.
So what’s happening is that from 1st July, next year, they will be able to be picked up from a pharmacy, rather than a hospital. Because you go to a GP, the GP gives you your prescription, then currently you have to go to a hospital. So that’s a big deal, in terms of just making it easier to live with HIV, and to maintain HIV treatments. And I think that the other thing that’s significant in the announcements is that the government is now, is considering the licensing and the funding of the new Hepatitis C medications, which is fantastic, because the newest Hepatitis C medications essentially are a cure. They’re a cure, they’re effectiveness status is amazing and the side affects are much, much better and so it’s huge news for Hepatitis C and for people with Hepatitis C.
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