Switzerland’s Federal Commission for Sexual Healthexternal link has recommended the distribution of home-based HIV screening tests, which until now have been banned in the country.
Final approval is still in the hands of the Federal Office of Public Health, which is expected to make a decision in the next two to three weeks, a spokesperson for the office said on Sunday.
If approved by the Federal Office of Public Health, the self-administered tests must then be authorised by the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, Swissmedicexternal link. That means they could in theory be available on the market as early as this summer, the spokesperson said.
The comments were made in response to reports published in the Zentralschweiz am Sonntag and Ostschweiz am Sonntag newspapers on Sunday.
Up to standard
Until now, the Federal Commission for Sexual Health had refused to recommend approval based on the argument that the quality conditions of the tests were not sufficient for use in diagnosing a serious illness like HIV. But according to the commission’s president, Marcel Tanner, there is no longer any reason to wait, as the tests have become reliable, and the experience of other countries has been positive.
He added that authorisation of the tests would be beneficial for public health.
“The easier it is for someone to take the test, the more infected people will have access to them, and the more the risk of transmission will be reduced,” Tanner said.
Tanner explained that the tests have largely been validated and are technically sound, but that it’s still important that the method be well-integrated into Switzerland’s overall health care system, so that patients know where to obtain help.
It will also be necessary to ensure that test packaging bears clear instructions, as well as information on counselling services – tasks for which the Swiss AIDS Federationexternal link has already offered its assistance.
With a self-administered test, an HIV infection can be detected in less than 30 minutes. Proponents of the method hope to reduce the number of affected people who are unaware of their status, while opponents say that the test should remain in the hands of professionals, arguing that even small user errors can lead to an incorrect result.