Northern Ireland Health Minister announces consultation on HIV self-testing kits

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Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells has announced a consultation on removing the ban on HIV self-testing kits in the province.

The ban was lifted in England, Wales and Scotland in April this year.

However, it remains in place in Northern Ireland.

Health Minister Jim Wells said: “HIV is a serious health issue; during 2012, there were 95 new diagnoses of the disease made in Northern Ireland.

“Removing the ban on the sale of HIV self-testing kits would give people more choice on how to get tested, which will allow for earlier diagnosis and timely access to appropriate care and treatment and ultimately improve health outcomes for those living with HIV.”

The DUP minister added: “All self-testing kits would be subject to strict regulatory control by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority before they are authorised for sale.”

The consultation will last for 12 weeks. Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety will make a decision, taking into consideration the responses received.

Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride, said: “At present, a registered medical practitioner must provide HIV testing. Unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to HIV, some people are reluctant to use existing testing services.

“Increasing the options for safe and effective HIV testing is important to help reduce undiagnosed HIV and prevent onward transmission by people who do not know they have HIV.

“Earlier diagnosis is also vital to ensure that those who are infected benefit from treatment to prevent disease progression and complications.”

Mr Wells replaced Edwin Poots as Northern Ireland’s Health Minister last month.

Both DUP politicians are known for their anti-gay views.

As Health Minister, Mr Poots repeatedly refused to end the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.

Mr Wells previously claimed that he finds LGBT pride events “repugnant” and has refused to take part in gay rights debates.

Last month he inexplicably blocked PinkNews and several critics on Twitter, just hours into his new ministerial role.