Comment: Let’s repeal the ban on home testing for HIV

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Writing for PinkNews.co.uk ahead of World AIDS Day, DrThom Chief Executive Rachel Carrell, says the ban on home HIV testing kits has to be lifted.

We’re really proud to be launching our partnership with GMFA in time for HIV Testing Week, helping to promote HIV testing in the UK. We’re supporting GMFA to offer home sampling for HIV through their website. It’s quick and easy – you get a kit through the post, give a sample at home, and then post it off to the laboratory. Negative results are given by text message, positive results by phone call from a doctor with links to follow-up support.

What would be even better would be if we could offer full home testing for HIV – the kind where you find out the result in your bathroom.

Unfortunately, home HIV tests have been prohibited since 1992.

It’s high time that ban was lifted. Back in 1992, positive HIV status was virtually a life sentence. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. HIV treatment has improved so much that people with HIV live for many decades. You can get life insurance as an HIV positive person. There’s even some emerging evidence that people with HIV who live to the age of 60 may have longer-than-average life expectancy. While it’s long been an argument that positive HIV status is too shocking to find out in your kitchen, there’s growing recognition that times have changed. (And did you know that similar things were once said about home pregnancy tests? For some women, finding out you’re pregnant feels much like a life sentence.)

A Terrence Higgins Trust recent survey of people with HIV found that over a third would have been diagnosed earlier if home testing kits were available. Home testing kits could have stopped some of these people passing it on to others without knowing. While many people have done great work increasing awareness of HIV and the need for testing, it’s still not enough: in the UK, a quarter of those with HIV are unaware they have the virus.

We should make home tests available in the UK. We’d need to regulate them carefully, be clear and honest about the tests’ accuracy, and make sure the tests are accompanied by details of where to get further advice and support. In ending the home testing ban we would be following the lead of the United States, where the FDA approved an HIV home testing kit for the first time in July.

It’s right to be concerned with accuracy of tests. All other things being equal, we should go for the most accurate tests we can. But all other things aren’t usually equal. If you only make laboratory tests available, a lot of people simply won’t get tested at all. What’s more, the history of home pregnancy tests would tend to indicate that over time accuracy would vastly improve. The difference between an HIV test that’s quite accurate and one that’s very accurate might be important. But the difference between either of those things and an at-risk person not getting tested at all is much bigger.

Rachel Carrell is CEO of DrThom, the remote healthcare service.

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