June 27, 2012
CDC on Tuesday announced a pilot program that will train staff at pharmacies and in-store clinics at 24 urban and rural sites to conduct free, rapid HIV testing. The goal of the $1.2 million initiative is to make HIV screening as common as a flu shot or blood pressure check.
"We believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and reduce the stigma associated with HIV," said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
In 2006, the agency recommended that all Americans ages 13-64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of normal, routine health care. However, fewer than half of adults younger than 65 have been screened, CDC's most recent data show. As many as 20 percent of the approximately 1.1 million Americans with HIV do not know they are infected.
Seven sites are already offering the test, including in Washington, D.C.; Oakland, Calif.; and at an Indian Health Service clinic in Montana. Another 17 locations will soon be selected by CDC.
Sarah Freedman is manager of a participating Walgreens store in the District of Columbia. Prominently displayed signs promote the screening, which is conducted in a private room. Stacks of request cards that look like business cards allow customers to discreetly request a test. "We get a lot of questions," she said. "Usually they get the information and they go and sit on it and think about it." Just three or four customers completed the oral swab test in the first few weeks.
Sites are expected to keep the results confidential, and employees are to refer customers who test positive to counseling and other services. Each location will receive enough tests to screen 200 to 300 people.
CDC epidemiologist and project lead Paul Weidle said the agency will conduct an assessment of the initiative when it ends next summer.