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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1641


Mr SNOW —Will the Minister for Health advise the House of the progress of the introduction of acquired immune deficiency syndrome screening kits into Australia? How successful will the introduction of the kits be in minimising the spread of AIDS?


Dr BLEWETT —I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question. I am glad to be able to say that as of today all States and Territories have now announced arrangements for the use of the AIDS antibody screening tests. Throughout Australia, all nominated State health laboratories and blood transfusion centres will be fully operational in their use of the screening tests by next Monday. South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland began full use of the tests last Monday week. Since then, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have become operational. Today, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory announced the nominated laboratories to which at risk people could go for screening from next Monday.

The speedy introduction of the screening tests represents a tremendous co-operative effort between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, the Red Cross and the scientific community in combating what is a major public health problem in this country. It has been a major task involving co-ordinated evaluation of the kits, tendering and purchase, the installation of testing equipment and the training of laboratory personnel to evaluate test results. All States and Territories, the Red Cross and the scientific community deserve congratulations for the quick and efficient introduction of these kits.

I point out that this makes Australia the first country to have fully introduced the AIDS screening tests. We in fact will be providing from Monday next a more comprehensive coverage than the United States of America, the country which is supplying the kits. The kits have been distributed simultaneously to Red Cross blood banks and to public health laboratories throughout Australia. This has been done because those in high risk groups who wish to be tested for AIDS should not go to the blood banks but should use the laboratories nominated by the governments in their State or Territory. In addition, general practitioners and private pathologists will also be able to collect blood from patients and forward supplies to the nominated laboratories.

The Government believes that, with an almost l00 per cent accuracy of the test for the AIDS anti-body, this is the best means yet to prevent the spread of AIDS through our blood supply. The Commonwealth Government has now given some $5.4m since November last to State health departments, community organisations, the blood transfusion service and other organisations, in a combined effort to halt the spread of this disease. Some $2.5m of that money was put aside to pay for the 300,000 tests which it is anticipated will take place in this financial year. As of today, there have been 74 confirmed cases of AIDS in Australia, with 27 deaths so far. While the incidence of AIDS is clearly on the increase, we are confident that the decisive actions taken will help to contain what is one of the biggest public health problems this country has had to face.