HIV home testing – Is it a good or a bad thing?
The FDA recently approved, what is believed to be, highly accurate HIV test that can be performed at home. The fact that the test has been approved by the FDA, one of the world’s strictest drug regulation authorities, means that OraQuick actually provides a reliable testing methods for those who would choose not to visit a clinic to get tested. However, HIV being a very serious worldwide health concern, has resulted in mixed views on the benefit of having a test such as this available.
Unlike the Rapid HIV POCT test that is currently available in clinics in the UK, OraQuick of which you'll find an image sourced from the The Guardian online below, requires a saliva sample taken from the top and bottom gums. The Rapid HIV POCT test is performed in a clinic and a blood sample is taken and results are usually available within ten minutes. You can request these tests at various GUM clinics across the UK and they are free and available as part of their walk-in service.
In the UK it’s illegal to manufacture, buy or sell any kind of home testing product for HIV, which was largely due to a fear that employers would start subjecting their employees to the tests to establish their status. However, the National Aids Trust have been campaigning for the legalisation of these tests to ensure that people aren’t tempted to buy illegal and highly unreliable tests online, a fair argument in my opinion. At least it gives that small number of people who are tempted to get an HIV test without going to a clinic, the option to buy an get approved and legal tests, reducing the chance of them placing their lives or the lives of others at risk. One contesting thought that tends to come to mind though, is the possibility that it might make people less likely to go to their doctor. This is a possibility, but I don’t think it’s going to lure a person that would originally have gone for an STI test with their doctor from getting tested.
What worried me most about the tests were the fact where that they weren’t 100% effective and to legally exclude HIV, you’d be required to have a blood test. They are around 92% accurate, which means that there is an eight out of 100 chance that you are likely to get an unreliable result, the odds don’t seem good and if I were to use one of these tests and I tested negative, I’d still be tempted to go a GUM clinic and have another test conducted. If I were to test positive at least I’d know to go to a doctor to get another test to confirm the results. This may cause unnecessary anxiety, but the FDA is of the opinion that the possibility for mishaps such as these doesn’t outweigh the overall impact these tests could have on minimising HIV from spreading. At least if you test positive, then you’d be able to get treatment as early as possible and these days, when treated early and even in its later stages, HIV is not a death sentence. It’s possible for people with HIV to live long and healthy lives with the help of the right anti-retroviral medications.
The plan is to introduce the tests to African countries where the rates of HIV infection is still scarily high and in many countries the number one cause of death. However, the tests will have to come down in price and there are also social issues that need to be considered. Overall I believe that a test such as this should be made available in the UK, but I think that it’s important to place emphasis on the fallibility of the test.