Australia: Experts Pushing for Rapid HIV Testing

Health advocates in Australia are pushing for approval of rapid HIV tests there as a way to expand testing and curb rising infection rates.

"Australia is the last developed country in the world that doesn't have access to rapid testing," said Mike Kennedy, executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council. "If we introduce it here we would see what we've seen everywhere around the world, we'd see rapid uptake," he said.

New HIV diagnoses in Australia during 2009 numbered 1,050, up from 718 a
decade ago.

Advocates maintain that the rapid test would expand, not replace, conventional testing, particularly among those who find current procedures difficult or stressful. An HIV test in Australia now typically requires an appointment and a wait of a week or more for results.

By comparison, the results of rapid testing are available in about 30 minutes. While conventional testing requires whole blood, rapid HIV testing can be done with a finger prick.

Making rapid testing available at clinics also would dissuade some people from buying potentially unreliable HIV tests over the Internet, advocates say.

Those objecting to rapid testing fear that the results may not be as reliable as those from conventional testing. In response, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations is expected to release a report next month illustrating the reliability of rapid testing. Rapid tests are close to 100 percent accurate, said Mark Stoove, head of the Burnet Institute's HIV/AIDS program. Stoove has been engaged by a Sydney-based advocacy group to establish an effective delivery model for rapid testing.

"At a population level if you're testing large numbers of people there are obviously opportunities for false positives and negatives, which is why we would use two concurrent tests together to improve the reliability. And any positive results would go off for full whole blood diagnostic testing," Stoove said.