Home-testing kits that allow people to test themselves for HIV will be legal in the UK from next spring.
The kits, which have been banned for sale in the UK since 1992, are often sold illegally online, but will be regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency from April 2014 and will be available on the NHS.
The law change comes as part of a raft of reforms to the UK’s HIV policy, which have also seen bans on healthcare workers with HIV performing certain procedures lifted.
Saliva or blood samples can be tested at home using the kits, which give a positive or negative reading. Professor Brian Gazzard, chair of the expert advisory group on AIDS, said that patients should see a healthcare professional if they had a positive reading, but could be completely reassured by a negative reading.
Until now, the kits had been “difficult to use and the results were neither sensitive nor specific enough” for them to regulated and recommended by the health service, he said.
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated, arguing that the more people get tested, the lower the risk of infection will be.
“We know people are already buying poor quality self-testing kits online…” said Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust. “Legislation is an important step to ensure they are regulated, accurate and safe.”
Lisa Power, policy director at the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “Currently, most HIV transmission in the UK is driven by the 25,000 people who have HIV but have not yet been diagnosed. Anything that encourages these people to test, take control of their health and get treatment is a welcome advance.”