What is HIV self-testing? And why is it gathering so much attention?

HIV self-testingCC: Vladimir Kudinov at Unsplash

According to the World Health Organization, around 75-percent of those who have HIV aren’t aware of their status. It doesn’t take much common sense to see how this could result in the condition spreading faster. One answer to resolving this is HIV self-testing.

One of the biggest barriers to a diagnoses is discrimination. Although society is now taking a more positive attitude toward HIV, some may resist confirming the condition due to ongoing stigma. Although the use of HIV self-testing won’t eliminate said stigma entirely it does give patients more control.

So, how can you access HIV self-testing? And, why the sudden surge in attention?

Where to get a HIV self-testing kit and how to use it

In 2017 the FDA granted approval for the use of OraQuick self-test kits. The test involves taking a sample of your saliva and reading the results within 40 minutes. It’s possible to buy it from stores such as Walgreens, but it’s essential that you understand the test’s limitations.

First, the test can produce a false-negative if you use it within three months of the risky behavior that may have caused HIV taking place. This is standard for all HIV tests due to the rate at which the virus replicates. If you’re unsure of when you may have exposed yourself to it, it’s a good idea to use another HIV self-testing kit at a later date.

Second, one of the FDA’s caveats involved sending the HIV self-testing kit to the OraQuick lab to validate your results. It’s also advisable to contact your usual physician if you have concerns.

Why has there been a sudden increase in attention?

The WHO statistic I discussed is certainly startling. However, it isn’t the only reason you’ll have seen more stories about HIV over the last few days. December the 1st 2018 was World AIDS Day and there has been a significant drive to promote awareness and HIV self-testing.

First, celebrities such as Elton John have been trying to dispell myths as a part of their usual Christmas charity campaigns. Many people aren’t aware that you’re likely to die with AIDS, not from it. Some also aren’t aware that you can still have children without passing the condition on vertically. And, current treatments make maintaining a normal lifestyle possible. Sadly the stigma from the 1980s and 1990s is living on, and few people are aware of how more socially acceptable diseases cause greater harm. Diabetes, for example.

In Ghana, presidential candidates are calling for other aspiring leaders to use self-testing kits. This doesn’t appear to be an attempt to smirch the names of competitors. Instead, they want to promote a more proactive approach to diagnosing the condition without shame.

Over in Zimbabwe, religious leaders are calling for miracle cure clerics to stop claiming that they can banish the disease. They would rather their followers take a science-based approach to the condition.

Most importantly, this year’s World AIDS Day theme was “know your status.” If the progressive approaches to HIV self-testing continue, the WHO could achieve its goal of reducing the number of people who have HIV/AIDS, without realising it.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.