Demand for rapid COVID-19 testing kits has sped up the use of at-home HIV testing technology, with the first kit approved by the medical regulator to be sold over the counter at pharmacies.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved Atomo Diagnostics to supply its finger-prick testing kit to chemists and other approved businesses, and to advertise it to those seeking to check their HIV status.
Advocates including the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations say the change in strict federal rules marks a big step forward for HIV awareness around the country.
Atomo founder John Kelly said the decision would improve access to the product for people in need and help public health.
“I think the changes bring HIV into line with COVID-19 because obviously the pandemic came along and reset the expectation about home testing and consumer testing. The TGA acknowledged that HIV was an outlier,” Dr. Kelly told The Australian Financial Review.
“There has been an attempt, I believe, to even out the restriction across the board for different types of infectious disease tests.”
Lockdowns and restrictions in 2020 and 2021 saw reduced rates of some medical tests, including for HIV. Atomo was supported by the Pharmacy Guild and other groups in arguing lower testing rates meant action was needed from federal regulators.
“I think it speaks to an alignment of community interests and I am very happy as an Australian manufacturer to be able to continue to support the market, even though there have been restrictions.
“Now we can hopefully start to improve testing rates in Australia,” Dr. Kelly said.
The sale and promotion of self-test HIV kits was an important step forward, said Darryl O’Donnell, chief executive of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.
He said the rule change would help give people seeking a test on their HIV status greater choice and access.
“While stigma and discrimination are easing they still present barriers for many people knowing their status. Being able to administer a finger prick test in the comfort of your own home will encourage more people to test for HIV,” Mr. O’Donnell said.
Coles, Woolies will stock the kits
”There is compelling Australian research to show self tests will increase testing among people who need to test and don’t, as well as those who test infrequently.
“This is a critical step to meet the goal of ending HIV transmission.
“It will directly assist efforts to increase the number of people living with HIV who are diagnosed, allowing them to seek treatment and suppress their viral load.”
Already widely used in countries including the US and the UK, online retailers are selling COVID-19 tests for $19.95, and supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths will stock the kits from this week.
Atomo’s COVID-19 test takes 10 minutes to return a result.
The NSW government is trialling rapid antigen tests to reduce disruption in schools, part of efforts to cut the isolation period for close contacts of confirmed cases.
The rapid test kits use samples from the throat and nose, which are placed in a chemical solution and applied to a cartridge, similar to those used in some pregnancy test kits.