United Kingdom: Ban on Home HIV Tests "Outdated"
January 23, 2007
With an estimated 31 percent of people in the United Kingdom unaware of their HIV status, a 1992 ban on home-based HIV testing needs to be reviewed, according to a Liverpool University health expert's article published in The Lancet. The ban's intent -- to ensure diagnostics were linked to counseling -- no longer outweighs consideration for a patient's autonomy, said Lucy Frith of Liverpool University's primary care division.
No start-to-finish home HIV test kit is available in the UK. However, taking advantage of a loophole in the law, a home kit recently went on sale in which an individual sends a saliva sample to a lab for testing.
Frith said the face-to-face counseling requirement could deter some people from taking an HIV test. "If practitioners truly believe in patient autonomy, people should be allowed to choose where, when and how they are tested for HIV, where the technology exists," said Frith. Current diagnostics are reliable, accurate and easy to use, she said. Counseling and support could still be provided through a telephone hotline and "would also be available when people sought a confirmatory test."
The Department of Health has asked an expert advisory group to consider the divisive issue, but it maintains the current system best addresses the concerns of testers.
"You can't have people dealing on their own with the news that they are HIV-positive," said Annabel Kannabus of the HIV prevention group AVERT. Kannabus suggested accessible walk-in testing clinics at places such as grocery stores, where privacy and counseling could still be provided.
"It's time that home testing for HIV was legalized and regulated in the UK," said Lisa Power of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
The full article, "HIV Self-Testing: A Time to Revise Current Policy," appeared in The Lancet (2007;369:243-245).
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.