The face of HIV testing changed forever, October 9, when OraSure Technologies announced that its OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is now available in stores, retailing for about $40 and allowing the user to swab his or her gums and read the test result at home in less than half an hour. HIV activist celebrities including Magic Johnson will help OraSure publicize and promote the new in-home test kit.
There was a time when testing at home would have been out of the question. A positive test result was a slow death sentence, and the testing process had to include careful counseling before the test and after results. That meant testing could not move out of controlled settings.
Today, many more people understand what HIV is and how it spreads, and many know that today's antiviral drugs don't cure HIV but let people who have it live normal lives with normal life expectancy. Most people who will use the in-home test are ready for it -- and we at NAPWA support their right to use it.
Empowering people who have or might have HIV is directly in line with the Denver Principles, NAPWA's founding document: whenever we can act and speak for ourselves, we should claim the power to do so. NAPWA issued an October 10 press release applauding the arrival of the home test kit. "The new OraQuick® In-Home HIV Test is a breakthrough in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our community," said Frank J. Oldham, Jr., President and CEO, NAPWA. "We applaud the launch of this test and commend OraSure Technologies and Magic Johnson for bringing increased awareness about the importance of knowing your HIV status." Also on October 10, NAPWA's Executive Vice President Steve Bailous traveled to New York City to join OraSure President Doug Michel, Magic Johnson, and other HIV activists in publicizing the new-product roll out. (For the record, in the photo above, Magic's not standing on a box.)
We join OraSure and many in the community in reminding readers that in-home testing will not end the epidemic all by itself. It will be one tool in a comprehensive tool kit. But it gets us closer to ending the epidemic by empowering people who can't or won't get tested in more public settings.
We also urge users of the in-home test to read the kit's user guide with care. Some users may only be confirming what they already know. Others may need support dealing with their result. OraSure will have a 24-hour hotline for people who used the test and need to talk -- that's where a lot of the kit's $40 retail price goes. Read the user's guide, know how to call the hotline, and do call if you need to. And get a doctor's confirmation and get into care, if your test result was positive.
We urge users, finally, not to use the in-home test kit as a substitute for safe sex. The test works by detecting antibodies to the HIV virus. There is a window of time after infection -- anywhere from three to eight weeks, sometimes several months -- when the body is not making antibodies yet, and there will be nothing for the test to detect. That means a positive test result means you probably are infected. A negative test result may only mean you haven't been infected long enough for the test to see antibodies. We can't use the test with casual partners, see that both of us tested negative, and proceed to have unprotected sex.