The ban on home HIV testing kits in the UK has been lifted.
Until now it was illegal in the UK to do an HIV test at home and read the result yourself – people could take a sample themselves, send it off for testing in a laboratory and receive the result at a later date.
Experts hope that making the tests more readily available will help reduce infection rates.
Figures released in November last year by Public Health England showed HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM) at an all-time high.
18% (7,300) of MSM in England who are HIV positive are unaware of their infection.
No home testing kits have yet been developed that pass European guidelines, however, Terrence Higgins Trust said the tests could be introduced into the UK this year or in early 2015.
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Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We welcome this change in the law, which will give people another choice about how and where they test for HIV. The success of our HIV postal testing scheme has shown that many people who have never tested before, or who have been putting off a visit to the clinic, are willing to test at home. With HIV transmission in the UK largely driven by the 22,000 people who remain undiagnosed, anything that provides them with another option to test and access effective treatment is welcome.
“It is vital that HIV self-testing kits offer high quality information, including how to obtain practical and emotional support and how to quickly access specialist HIV services. We will be working closely with manufacturers to ensure that any kit that comes to market meets the very best standards of patient information.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: “I really hope the introduction of self-testing kits will increase the level of HIV testing in the UK and help reduce the worrying level of undiagnosed HIV.
“Currently one in five people in the UK who have HIV don’t know they have it and over half are diagnosed late, meaning they have had HIV for at least four years.
“Being diagnosed late means you are more likely to get ill and more likely to unwittingly pass the virus on to sexual partners.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Health said: “The stigma surrounding HIV may mean that some people are afraid or reluctant to go to a clinic to be tested.
“The change in the law will mean self-test kits are now legal to buy, making the test process more convenient and discreet.”
She said although no kits meeting European standards were available in the UK, the government “expected this to change” in the next year.
“HIV testing remains free on the NHS – anybody with concerns can visit their GUM Clinic, GP or contact the Terrence Higgins Trust’s confidential helpline. Self-sampling kits are also available to buy,” she added.