A home testing kit that can detect HIV antibodies in just 15 minutes has been launched in the Irish market against a backdrop of a steady rise in infection rates since 2011.
The self-test kit, available over the counter from pharmacies, involves the user taking a pinprick sample of their blood with the device. The device then looks for the presence of antibodies and produces a HIV negative or HIV positive reading within 15 minutes.
The makers of the test kit, Mylan, have already launched the product in France, Italy, and Spain and have pledged to work with HIV patient organisations in the coming months “to increase awareness of the importance of early testing”.
"Owen McKeon, country manager for Mylan Ireland, said they had “a long history in the fight against HIV and Aids”.
Mylan said it hoped to change the reality of people living with HIV, but who are not aware of their status, unknowingly transmitting it to others.
Each HIV self-test kit comes with an information leaflet on how to use the test correctly and contact information for the GOSHH (Gender, Orientation, Sexual Health, and HIV) helpline.
Ann Mason, manager of GOSHH, said that the sooner someone living with HIV accesses treatment, the sooner the medication will reduce their viral load to undetectable.
"Whether you are HIV negative, positive, or have never been tested, there are channels to discuss it,” she said. “It is also important to encourage people to openly discuss their HIV status with their sexual partner."
In the event of a positive HIV result, users are advised to attend a full sexual health screening with their healthcare professional.
HIV infection rates in Ireland increased dramatically, by 43.9%, in the decade 2006 to 2016.
In 2016, 508 cases were recorded and, last year, provisional data shows 506 cases. The 2016 figure was the highest number of new cases of HIV since records began and men were predominantly afflicted (77%).
Almost half of new diagnoses were in the 20-34 age group and 41% in the 35-49 bracket. Over half of the new cases were people born outside of Ireland, but who came here in recent years.
In 2017, 280 cases were notified to the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in the first 29 weeks of the year, compared to 276 this year, a marginal decrease.
On a positive note, research has shown that the life expectancy for young people with HIV in the western world is now as high as 76 years old, helped by ever-improving treatments.
The new kit, Autotest VIH, is a third-generation self-test kit and users are advised to wait three months from the point of potential exposure to HIV and testing.
Mylan said that is the time it takes for the body to produce antibodies that signal the presence of HIV.
The recommended retail price of the kit is €35.