As of Sunday 6th April HIV self-testing kits have become legal to sell commercially within the UK.
The kit allows members of the public to perform HIV tests on themselves and to receive an immediate result quickly and discretely. No kit has yet been approved for sale but we can expect to see the first approved kits being made available by late 2014 or early 2015.
Today there are more than 100,000 people living with HIV inside the UK and 22% of these living with the virus remain to be undiagnosed. Undiagnosed infection is recognised as the key factor in driving the ongoing HIV epidemic inside the UK, and those that are successfully diagnosed are much less likely to transmit the virus to others.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, piloted HIV postal tests. These allowed people to order kits online and to return them with a sample of their own saliva or blood to be alerted to the results via text message. This no direct contact method proved to be extremely successful with over 3,000 ordered online in one weekend alone. Furthermore 32% of the people using the service had never tested for HIV before and 1 in 4 service users had not tested in the last 12 months.
The success of postal testing indicates the potential for at home testing kits to reach an even wider audience and to get to people that have not used widely available sexual health services before.
Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Given the scale of public demand, and the positive feedback from those who have used the service, it is likely that HIV self-sampling will form a key strut of our prevention work in the UK from this point on. It also suggests there may be reasonable demand for HIV self-testing once an approved kit goes on sale.”
Self-testing kits are not guaranteed to pick up an infection that has occurred in the previous three months, making them less effective than clinical tests currently offered by GP’s and sexual health or community testing services which use a blood sample and can detect recent infections before the last 30 days. If you believe that there is a possibility that you could have contracted the infection from a person whose HIV status is unknown it is possible to take Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) treatment within 72 hours, which may stop an infection happening. This is available from GP’s, Accident and Emergency departments and Urgent Care or local HIV clinics.
The advantage of self-testing kits are that they will give people the convenience of doing the test in their own time and in the privacy of their own homes. These home HIV tests will allow sometimes busy clinics to be avoided alongside their queues, and also appeal more to people who would prefer to not have to speak to health advisers to carry out these tests.
However, many people are expected to still prefer to talk to someone about having their HIV test in a clinic that provides the most reliable results. This would also allow an individual to be screened for other STI’s such as gonorrhoea, herpes and chlamydia which at-home HIV kits will not be able to identify.
To ensure that the self-testing kits meet the required standard you should look for the CE mark on the kit, which will identify it as acceptably safe and indicate that it should work properly. No self-test kit will be 100% reliable and you should consult your GP or visit a sexual health service for confirmation of a positive result and for support and guidance.
For further information on HIV and support services available in your area, or to find out where to get tested, visit: www.tht.org.uk/sexual-health/Service-finder