A Way To Go In Expanding HIV Testing Access

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Efforts to make HIV testing more accessible need to consider privacy, cost and health knowledge.

A walgreens sign advertises flu shots

Photo: greeblie (Flikr)

With two recent developments in accessibility, the Center for Disease Control hopes HIV testing will become as routine as getting annual flu shots or periodic blood pressure readings.

The FDA made headlines this week by approving the first-ever rapid home test for HIV. Unlike earlier blood tests that require users to mail in results and wait days for a response, Oraquick shows results within forty minutes. Health professionals hail this new development as an advancement in HIV prevention, as people who are aware of and treated for their HIV infection are 96% less likely to pass it on.

Meanwhile, a new pilot program from the Center for Disease Control is introducing free HIV testing to twenty-four Walgreens clinics around the nation. In the Hoosier state, an Indiana University partner study will survey area pharmacists and community members on their feelings about pharmacy-clinic HIV tests. Led by IU’s Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention Chair Beth Meyerson, the survey aims to determine the “feasibility, acceptability and readiness” of administering this kind of test along with more traditional pharmacy fare like cholesterol and blood pressure readings.

But what exactly does a “feasible, acceptable and ready” situation look like, and if we aren’t there yet, how can we get there? Despite the important aforementioned developments, certain Americans still face huge barriers in attaining safe, reliable HIV testing.

Stigma

Any discussion about the “acceptability” of HIV testing boils down to the issue of stigma. Clinics and health centers already provide STI testing- often for free- throughout in the United States. The problem is, some people don’t want to be seen entering an HIV clinic. Even though STIs are common in the United States and getting tested is always a mature and responsible decision, people believed to have infections still face stigma.

Although no one should feel ashamed of getting tested, it’s understandable to want more privacy than an STI clinic might be able to provide. The CDC Walgreen’s program hopes to thwart this obstacle by testing for HIV in the same location as less-stigmatized conditions, like high blood pressure. Only patients and pharmacists will know what test is being requested. The new home tests are designed with the same goal in mind.

Not Sure If It’s The “Right Time”

Though it’s always okay to get tested, people aren’t always sure when it’s necessary. Early HIV symptoms may not occur until a few months after infection, and even then, they may not tip someone off that it’s time to get tested. Anyone who has had sex without a barrier contraceptive since their last STI test should get tested again, and the CDC encourages anyone between the ages of 13 and 64 to be tested regularly. Try this tool to estimate your risk-status.

People who regularly see their gynecologist may assume they automatically receive STI testing, but this is NOT the case. Unless patients specifically ask for STI testing, they aren’t likely to receive it. Be specific in your questions and requests for healthcare providers.

Cost

A recent article notes that insurers will increasingly cover STI testing. However, for insured and uninsured Americans alike, HIV testing can still be financially inaccessible. OraQuick, the new home test for HIV, is currently priced at $36.00 for one test. All positive tests results must also be followed-up with further testing and counseling, which can be even more expensive.

 

Hopefully, developments in testing and the research of the CDC and IU will bring the country- and state- closer to a place where affordable, private, convenient HIV testing is both feasible and acceptable to all parties involved. Sexually responsible people across the United States are ready for accessible healthcare.

Rosalyn Sternberg

is an intern at the Kinsey Institute and a contributor to Kinsey Confidential. She is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley with a major in Gender and Women's Studies.
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