Germany's Health Ministry said it intends to make HIV self-testing kits available for purchase so people can more quickly, easily and privately ascertain whether they are infected with the immune-deficiency virus and seek treatment if necessary.
"The HIV self-test is a milestone in the fight against AIDS," Health Minister Jens Spahn told newspapers from the Funke media group on Friday. "It can reach even those who wouldn't otherwise let themselves be tested."
Spahn said an estimated 13,000 people in Germany are infected with HIV without knowing it. The earlier those affected had an HIV diagnosis, the earlier they could be treated, he said.
Others who are unsure will have the "chance to quickly have certainty that they are not infected," Spahn said.
The self-testing kits are to go on sale from autumn, he added.
Read more: HIV and AIDS in a nutshell
Preventing further infections
The charity Deutsche Aids-Hilfe welcomed the proposal.
Board member Sylvia Urban said it would help ensure that "more people learn of their HIV infection as early as possible and undergo therapy."
This would prevent their becoming ill with AIDS and from transferring the virus to others, she said.
Read more: Having sex with HIV
Up to now, people in Germany have had to send their blood samples to doctors, hospitals, blood-donation services or counselling centers for fast testing. Many are thought to avoid taking such tests for fear of being stigmatized.
In neighboring Austria, self-tests for HIV already went on sale at pharmacies this month. The tests can detect an infection as early as 12 weeks after it has occurred.
If HIV is left untreated, it often progresses to AIDS, a condition in which the human immune system gradually fails, allowing various dangerous illnesses to thrive. However, modern antiretroviral therapy has proven so successful in controlling HIV infections so that they rarely progress that far, with those infected often having relatively normal life expectancies.
More than 88,000 people in Germany are currently estimated to be living with HIV.
Read more: Fighting HIV with life-prolonging drugs
tj/sms (dpa, AFP, epd)