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HIV Testing Coming Closer to Home

By Candace Y.A. Montague

May 17, 2012

Are you ready for DIY HIV test? Photo credit:

Are you ready for DIY HIV test? Photo credit:

If you could have your way, would you prefer to take an HIV test at home or at a physician's office?  Well one advocacy group says take it at home.  According to, a national HIV awareness group, support for over-the-counter HIV testing is growing.  They released the results of their year-long survey that measured potential support for an over-the-counter HIV test.  It seems that increasingly the tide is turning and testing is coming out of the doctor's offices and clinics. But is it wise to leave testing up to untrained consumers at home without consultation from a medical professional?

Who's Positive gathered responses from more than 1,500 participants. Some of the highlights from the survey were

  • 74% of participants overall said they would support an oral swab OTC HIV test that could be purchased in a retail store if the FDA approved it
  • 80% of persons up to age 30 support OTC HIV testing
  • Nearly 52% of those identified as paid members of an HIV/AIDS organization support an OTC HIV test

However ...

  • Only 47% of those who identify as one who performs HIV testing support an OTC HIV test.

For many years now, a 'rogue' group of AIDS activists have been pushing for home HIV testing kits to be made available across the country for years.  Why?  To increase testing accessibility and decrease the chances of an embarrassing encounter in a clinical setting.  In spite of what people see in the District, HIV tests are not readily accessible everywhere in the country.  And the stigma attached to the virus can make it nearly impossible to simply ask for the test.  Supporters argue that with the right tools, a set of clearly written directions, and a hotline to call for help, an adult should be able to handle testing privately. There are testimonies about people being asked invasive questions and told their results in a crowded waiting room within earshot of strangers. Home testing would eliminate the possibility of humiliation. 

Critics of the test, however, warn that OTC testing can be detrimental.  Their claim is that pre and post test counseling are prime times for education.  If a person tests negative, it is important for them to get information about safe sex practices and clean needle exchange.  If the results are positive there is no telling how a person will react.  They could harm themselves or another person out of revenge. It would help to have a trained professional on the spot to assist with coping with a devastating diagnosis such as this one.  Also, if a person tests in their home, they may feel more compelled to keep their results hidden.  This is not helpful at all to epidemiologists who are desperately trying to track this disease and determine how and where this epidemic is hitting the hardest.

Who's Positive will present their results to the Food and Drug Administration's Blood Products Advisory Committee on May 15th. What do you think? Is it time to let people test themselves for HIV at home? Leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on Home HIV Testing

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Tom Donohue (Charlottesville, VA) Thu., May. 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm UTC

Thank you for covering our Survey. We are very pleased this was approved. Tom Donohue, Who's Positive
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D.C. HIV/AIDS Examiner

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague has been learning about HIV since 1988 (and she has the certificates from the American Red Cross to prove it). Health is a high priority to Candace because she believes that nothing can come of your life if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her two master's degrees is in Community Health Promotion and Education. Candace was inspired to act against HIV after seeing a documentary in 2008 about African-American women and HIV. She knew that writing was the best way for her to make a difference and help inform others. Candace is a native Washingtonian and covers HIV news all around D.C. She has covered fundraisers, motorcycle rides, town hall meetings, house balls, Capitol Hill press conferences, election campaigns and protests for The DC and emPower News Magazine.

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