Diagnosing HIV infection as soon as possible after transmission enables early access to treatment and support. This increases people’s quality of life and life expectancy; several studies have now shown the health benefits of early treatment for people with HIV.
Recent research shows that treatment makes people less infectious by suppressing the virus to very low or ‘undetectable’ levels. HIV-positive people who know their status can ensure they take precautions to avoid transmitting HIV to others. A disproportionate number of HIV infections in Australia occur because people are not aware that they are HIV-positive.
A substantial increase in the uptake of voluntary HIV testing would have a significant impact on the HIV epidemic in Australia because it would increase the number of people aware of their HIV status and minimise delays between infection and diagnosis - thereby benefitting people with HIV and reducing the number of onward transmissions.
Rapid HIV testing in community based settings are being rolled out by HIV agencies as a strategy to increase testing among gay men. Reactive (or preliminary positive) rapid test results must be confirmed by a laboratory test.
HIV testing in Australia is guided by the National HIV Testing Policy.
It is recommended that men who have sex with men test for HIV at least once a year, and up to four times a year if they have had had a greater number of partners or participated in certain types of sex.
According to the Annual Report on Trends in Behaviour 2014, in 2013 87% of participants in the Gay Community Periodic Surveys (GCPS) across 6 states in Australia reported having ever tested for HIV, and only 60.7% reported having tested in the past year. While testing rates vary by jurisdiction, this represents a downward trend in testing over the past decade. Data on testing rates for different states and territories is available in the GCPS reports.