Legalised HIV home tests could cut transmission rates

The Department for Health’s announcement that home HIV tests will soon be legalised should reduce spread of the virus and stigma around it – but only if professional support is available, says Dr Thom chief executive Rachel Carrell.

The latest National AIDS trust figures suggest that close to 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV.

We’ve all seen the good news stories, telling us that the huge advances in HIV drug treatment mean it’s no longer a death sentence. But still, a quarter of the 100,000 with HIV have no idea that they are infected with the virus.

For those diagnosed with HIV, medication means that the virus can be reduced to almost undetectable levels if treated in good time.

HIV treatment has the best chance of being effective, the earlier it’s taken. If a quarter of HIV carriers don’t know they’re affected, the virus will continue to be spread across the UK. As a case in point, we’ve seen a worrying jump lately in HIV cases amongst gay men in London, for instance, where HIV cases rose 21 per cent from 2011 to 2012 – and are predicted to rise again between 2012-13.

The Government’s announcement this week that home HIV tests are finally being made legal is good news for us all. For potential carriers, it will make the testing process easy, quick and truly anonymous. Ultimately, these home kits should help to diagnose more people; reduce transmission rates and push down HIV prevalence across the UK.

So far, so good. But one crucial point is how and where these home testing kits will be available to buy. There’s a very fine line to be navigated between making a test easy to obtain and supporting people who could be diagnosed with a life-changing condition.

This is where I believe online pharmacies can bridge the gap. Online pharmacies like Dr Thom are already selling HIV testing kits which are sent to a lab for results. One-to-one care from a doctor is included in the purchase of each kit, including a follow-up call to discuss a positive test result.

We have a while to go before home tests are legalised in 2014. Hopefully by then, guidelines around their sale will encourage easy access to the medical and psychological support that patients undertaking a home HIV test need. Of course, online pharmacy is not the only route for test sales – but wherever they are made available, patient follow-up and care must not be forgotten.