Take-home HIV Tests: Good or Bad?

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Blood Products Advisory Committee is in the preliminary stages of determining whether to allow HIV tests to be sold over the counter.

The pros and cons of such wide access were discussed during a recent panel discussion involving members of the FDA, HIV/AIDS activists, professors and manufacturers.

OraSure Technologies, the manufacturing company of the OraSure and OraQuick rapid testing methods, is pushing for a space on the shelf at the pharmacy. Such tests would allow people to anonymously learn their HIV status in less than an hour, without hassle and potentially without immediate counseling.

“It’s kind of early to know where things stand,” says Jessica Frickey, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control. Present at the FDA’s recent panel, Frickey realized a lot more research needs to be done before the CDC takes a position on it.

“Bottom line: If more people would be willing to take a test at home and find out their status then that’s the best outcome we could ask for,” Frickey says. “We have data that shows when people know they have HIV, they take steps to protect their partners from infection.”

Much of that data was collected by physicians. And the home test could lessen interaction with a medical expert.

Throughout her college years at Spelman College in Atlanta, Daniela Edison made regular HIV testing a way of life. Though she felt uncomfortable with the physicians discussing the testing with her, she now understands the impact they had.

“It was embarrassing, to be young and talking about safe sex and everything with a stranger,” Edison says. “I’ve been blessed to be okay, but if I wasn’t I would have needed a counselor there for comfort.”

Imaginations can run wild when thinking about the implications of at-home testing. People could easily misunderstand their tests or lash out emotionally and harm themselves or others. Even though panelists were divided over where administering a test at home is the best course of action, most can agree that having some form of formal counseling and education about HIV AIDS testing, prevention and treatment is vital.

“Certainly if you take an HIV test of this nature, a test that searches for antibodies to HIV, if you get a negative test it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have HIV,” Frickey says. “It could mean that you have HIV and your antibodies aren’t yet detectible.”

That’s why some have reservations.

“I think I would lean toward it not being available unless counseling was a part of purchasing the product which you and I both know isn’t going to happen,” says Clarence Stewart, certified sex educator with the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. “You’re dealing with something that will kill you or something that you will have the rest of your life. You mean to tell me that once you find out that you are not going to want to talk to somebody?”

With African-American women in the lead for being at risk, Stewart is concerned for those who are primarily getting infected from their male partners.

“There’s a possibility that it’s going to change within the next few years because what’s the number one minority group in the United States?” Stewart asked, referring to the growing Hispanic population.

“On a whole results would be given and treated a lot quicker, however I think the biggest problem would be people testing secretly and not sharing results and going untreated,” Patricia DuPont, a licensed psychotherapist says. “We tend to avoid therapy in general and there’s a cultural stigma against it so we as Blacks would likely not seek out the courses of treatment, both medically and psychologically.”

When Marcel Watkins was diagnosed with HIV a year ago, he needed all the support he could find.

“I was in denial even though I had a doctor staring me in the face like ‘You are HIV positive,'” the investment banker in San Diego says. It was through visits with his doctor and the pressure put on him to begin taking medicine that Watkins faced reality. “If I found that out at home and alone, I think I’d have gone on like nothing happened.”

Story courtesy of NNPA.