‘HIV flourishes in the shadows of stigma.’

Could a new trial by NSW Health, allowing people to collect their own blood sample at home and send it for an HIV test, improve testing rates?

In a move away from previous efforts to have HIV tests sold through community pharmacy, NSW Health is hoping to make the home test more widely available.

Once rolled out, the technology is expected to help drive an uptake in HIV testing, which NSW Health says is critical to ending the epidemic.

Dried blood spot testing is among the range of testing options being promoted on HIV Testing Week (1-7 June), which in 2017 aims to increase HIV testing in populations that are often diagnosed late with HIV.

The new testing technology is available to men who have had sex with men, people from countries where HIV is more common (particularly parts of Africa or Asia), or people who have sexual partners from these regions.

The self-collection test allows a finger prick sample of blood to be collected at home and sent by mail. Results are delivered by phone, text message or email. The test is highly accurate and free.

The dried blood spot testing program is being supported by ACON, NSW’s HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTI health organisation, which says its addition to the suite of testing options already available to the community will help in the goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmissions by 2020.

“Many people still delay an HIV test due because they fear they will face judgement. This technology helps reduce those barriers,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill.

“We are making significant progress towards ending HIV. However, HIV flourishes in the shadows of stigma.”

“Combined with GPs, sexual health clinics and community-based services such as ACON’s a[TEST] facilities, dried blood spot testing will encourage more people to test and know their status.”

Recent data from NSW Ministry of Health shows HIV testing is continuing to increase both overall in NSW and among high risk populations. But many of those who are diagnosed with HIV are presenting with a late diagnosis.

“We estimate that up to 10% of HIV cases in NSW are undiagnosed and it’s these people, who are unaware of their status, who need to get tested so they can protect their health and prevent onward transmission of the virus,” Mr Parkhill said.

“Once people know their HIV status, they can take action to improve their health outcomes and prevent passing on the virus.”

Mr Parkhill added HIV Testing Week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of people learnginf their HIV status, not just for their own health, but for their partner’s health as well.

“With the latest developments in testing, getting tested is quick, free and convenient and available in a broad range of services,” he said.

“We acknowledge the NSW Government for supporting new technology such as dried blood spot testing, and for its unstinting commitment to ending HIV. And we commend gay men across NSW for taking action and getting tested.

“HIV Testing Week is an important reminder that we need to keep up the momentum of testing often.”

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