By Mitchell Dunk
Edited for online by Paige Hasaballah
The Queensland Government has announced it will offer free rapid HIV testing at sexual health clinics throughout the state.
It is an unexpected move after the Government announced major funding cuts to Biala House, Brisbane’s only free sexual health clinic, just weeks ago.
Rapid response HIV testing requires just a small amount of blood from a person’s fingertip, similar to a blood sugar level test.
Results for the test can be revealed in 20 minutes which is much faster than old methods which could take several weeks.
Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV and AIDS chair Dr Darren Russell said the new method is equally as effective as the traditional method.
“The accuracy seems very similar to the former testing that we’re using and if one of these rapid tests shows up positive for HIV we then take some blood from the person and send it off for more formal testing at a laboratory,” he said.
“Initially, we’ll be rolling them out throughout sexual health clinics in Queensland from June 3 and then making them available throughout the state through such sexual health clinics.”
But Premier Campbell Newman’s decision to cut back staff and funding at Brisbane’s only free sexual health clinic means the test’s future is uncertain.
Gay equality activist and Queer Radio host Blair Martin said it is an unusual tactic for the Government given recent cuts to sexual health services.
“It’s an interesting move from the Government as it’s been nearly 12 months since the Health Minister Lawrence Springborg de-funded [the Queensland Association for] Healthy Communities,” he said.
“He is putting the lives of people in jeopardy and he really is a backward thinker when it comes to HIV-AIDS.”
Dr Russell agreed that government cuts do pose a problem in reducing the number of positive HIV cases within the community.
“It’s a potential problem if sexual health services around the state are cut and it’s more difficult people to access this testing,” he said.
But Mr Martin said the issue might not have as much to do with funding as it does with the Government’s negative attitude towards the gay community.
“During the period of the previous Labor government there was certainly more awareness of the broader health benefits for a community that is valued,” he added.
Queensland is the second Australian state following Victoria to get on board although the technology for rapid HIV testing has been available overseas for several years.