The Australian government has approved the sale HIV home-testing kits, as part of a national strategy aiming to tackle the virus.

Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton announced in Melbourne today that, following the successful introduction of self-testing kits in the US, the Australian government is to encourage the manufacture and sale of such kits nationally.

“Home self-testing provides an additional testing option that complements current options and allows people living with HIV to learn their HIV status and seek appropriate treatment and support,” he said.

“It also overcomes some of the common concerns people have about receiving the test in a medical setting and gives them more choice.”

He encouraged the manufacture of such kits in Australia, in order to ensure kits meet Australian quality control standards. Companies will now be able to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for permission to supply the kits.

Professor John Skerritt, National Manager of the TGA, explained: “A small purple band appears to show the antibody [produced by people infected with the virus] is present and you are therefore likely to have HIV. It’s like a home pregnancy test.”

The new measure is part of a government strategy aiming to reduce sexual transmission of HIV by 50% by 2015. It is also “work[ing] towards achieving the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in Australia by 2020”.

The latest surveillance report showed a 10% increase in diagnosis of HIV infections in 2012, with two-thirds of new cases diagnosed in men who have sex with men (MSM). A 2010 report from the Centre for Disease Control estimated that MSM accounted for 61% of new HIV infections internationally.

Professor Sharon Lewin, director of Alfred Hospital, Victoria, said: “Last year there were 1200 new infections across Australia, which is the highest number in the last decade … so we need to do things differently and part of that is making testing and treatment more accessible.”

The 20th International AIDS conference is to be held in Melbourne later this month.