News

Exploring rapid HIV testing in community pharmacies and dental surgeries


22 October 2013

Dr Anthony Santella is leading a study into the attitudes of pharmacists and dentists on offering rapid HIV testing.
Dr Anthony Santella is leading a study into the attitudes of pharmacists and dentists on offering rapid HIV testing.

In a bid to potentially increase the rates of early HIV diagnoses, University of Sydney researchers are currently surveying community pharmacists and dentists to gauge their support to introduce rapid HIV testing in pharmacies and dental surgeries.

This study - the first of its kind in Australia - could help increase the number of people living HIV who know their status. In NSW it is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of those living with HIV are undiagnosed and possibly spreading the virus.

The Australian government approved the first rapid HIV test in December 2012, a finger prick test, currently performed by medical practitioners. The test screens for HIV antibodies, giving a result within 20 minutes. A positive result still requires a blood test for confirmation but there is an almost immediate indication, as opposed to waiting more than 24 hours. Rapid oral HIV and Hepatitis C tests are currently being reviewed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Speaking from the Australasian HIV and AIDS Conference in Darwin this week, clinical investigator, Dr Anthony Santella, said rapid HIV testing is currently being trialled in NSW, Victoria and Queensland but compared to other parts of the world, Australia had been slow to approve and implement rapid testing.

"Research in both developed and developing countries has shown that rapid HIV tests have high acceptability among both providers and patients," he said.

"HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often undiagnosed or diagnosed late because of the stigma associated with them, their often asymptomatic nature, and the limited number of testing providers, particularly for marginalised and at-risk populations," he said.

"In Australia it is estimated that one in five people with HIV are not aware of their infection, and are likely to be transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. People with HIV are most infectious to others in the immediate period following initial acquisition of the virus and easy access to regular testing is becoming increasingly recognised as an important public health strategy.

"Furthermore with the increased availability of simple, safe antiretroviral regimes, the benefits of earlier commencement of therapy are now becoming more widely accepted. As a consequence, all major HIV and STI strategies, including the New South Wales HIV Strategy promote increasing accessibility and frequency of testing of at risk populations, made possible by new, onsite testing technologies.

"Community pharmacies and dental surgeries, with their recognised trust and expertise, close links to local populations and widespread geographical distribution, can potentially provide a high quality, safe and readily accessible location for HIV and STI testing.

"And it also represents an opportunity for pharmacists and dentists to expand their existing public health role."

About the study: The research is a collaboration between University of Sydney researchers: Dr Anthony Santella and Associate Professor Richard Hillman (Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre), Professor Ines Krass (Faculty of Pharmacy), Associate Professor Mark Schifter (Faculty of Dentistry) and Dr Tim Schlub (Sydney School of Public Health).

If you are a community pharmacist or dentist in Australia, please consider participating in the online survey. It will take about 10 minutes to complete and is anonymous and confidential survey. The survey is open until November 30.

Community pharmacists survey visit:https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/USYD_Pharmacy

Dentists survey visit:http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/99K5CLS

About the conference:The Australasian HIV and AIDS Conference is the flagship conference of ASHM, the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine.

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Media contact: Rachel Gleeson 02 9351 4630, 0481 004 782, rachel.gleeson@sydney.edu.au