Australia has approved for nationwide use a 30-minute test that will help immediately determine if a person is positive to the dreaded HIV virus infection, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced on Monday.
Ms Plibersek said the Alere Determine Combo HIV 1/2 Ag/Ab test, of which its main goal is to produce results within a 30-minute timeframe, would enable individuals newly infected with HIV to get immediate access to treatment, at the same time lessening the chances of getting others infected.
The current practice for HIV testing entails getting a full blood test and then waiting for several days before knowing whether the results showed a negative or positive. Infected individuals will then be required to seek doctors' appointments, which sometimes more than a week to schedule.
The 30-minute test will be carried out very much similar to a small finger-prick routine. It is not the current world standard being applied in clinics in in Europe, the US, New Zealand and many developing countries.
"Since 1985 we've had 30,000 HIV infections in Australia and around 7,000 deaths, and many of those deaths were preventable by testing. This approval (by the Therapeutic Goods Administration) increases the likelihood that people will come in for tests and be tested frequently," Ms Plibersek said.
"This is a circuit breaker for us - we've been pushing for rapid testing to be approved for years, and this is really the start of something new in HIV diagnosis," Rob Lake, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director, said.
Early diagnosis would mean early treatment against the dreaded virus, Ms Plibersek said.
"It is very important for people to know their HIV status because we also reduce the risk of transmission," she said, noting current antibody tests can take between two weeks and three months.
Government data revealed that at the end of 2011, there were 24,731 people in Australia living with HIV.