People who are concerned that they might have HIV will soon be able to find out whether or not they are infected in the comfort of their own homes, officials are to announce.
At present it is illegal in the UK to do a HIV test at home and read the result yourself - people can take a sample themselves, send it off for testing in a laboratory and receive the result at a later date.
But officials are planning to change the outdated laws so people can perform a simple saliva test at home which will quickly give the user a “negative” or a “positive indication” result.
Health experts hope that making the tests more readily available will help reduce infection rates.
Last November, the Health Protection Agency said that a record number of people in the UK were living with HIV, with the number of people with the virus reaching nearly 100,000.
But health officials warned that a quarter of people who have the human immunodeficiency virus are not aware they have been infected.
Officials from the Department of Health are expected to say that home testing may help people detect their infection earlier on, which could lead to more effective treatment options and reduce the infection spreading.
Public health minister Anna Soubry is expected to say: “The stigma and fear surrounding HIV may mean that some people are afraid or reluctant to go to a clinic to be tested.
“I hope that by removing the ban on self-testing kits people will be able to choose the right time and right surroundings to take a test and, if positive, help them get the best treatment available. Clear information on how to get immediate support will be provided with the kits.”
Lisa Power, policy director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We warmly welcome this decision, which Terrence Higgins Trust has long campaigned for. People deserve to have a choice about how and where they test for HIV and proper regulation will make self testing a safe and supported option for many more people across the country.
“The public response to our highly successful home sampling scheme shows that many people who have never tested before, or who have been putting off a visit to a clinic, are willing to test at home.
“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.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: “With around 25,000 people in the UK living with HIV without knowing it, it is vital that we offer as many options as possible to take an HIV test.
“Self-testing kits have an important role to play in reaching people who are uncomfortable or unable to test in a sexual health clinic or other healthcare setting.
“We know that some people are already buying poor quality self-testing kits online from overseas which is why NAT have campaigned for a change in the law. Legalisation is an important step to ensure that the tests available are accurate, safe and appropriately regulated.”
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.