Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Free HIV testing at a drugstore near you

We can have a flu shot and our blood pressure checked at just about any drugstore. If an HIV test was made available, would you take advantage of it?

A new pilot program announced Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would make this possible. The $1.2 million program will offer the free rapid HIV tests at pharmacies and in-store clinics in 24 cities and rural communities. "We believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and reduce the stigma associated with HIV," said Dr. Kevin Fenton, who oversees the CDC's HIV prevention programs in a statement.

The tests are available in seven places, including Washington, D.C., Oakland, C.A. and an Indian health service clinic in Montana. The CDC will soon pick more locations. An estimated 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, but as many at 20 percent of them don't know they carry the virus.

The HIV rapid test is a swab inside the mouth, which takes 20 minutes for a preliminary result. The test maker said it's correct 99 percent of the time. In the event of a positive test, pharmacy employees will refer customers to a local health department or other health care providers for a lab blood test to confirm the results. 

This week, Walgreens - the nation's largest chain of pharmacies - is teaming with health departments and AIDS groups to offer free tests in 20 cities including Chicago and Lithonia, G.A. Each location will get enough tests to check 200 to 300 people. In that program, health professionals conduct the tests and deliver the news. The CDC aims to train pharmacy staff to test and deliver the results in private or discreet ways. However, potential pitfalls would include difficulty responding to customers who learn in a drugstore they're HIV-positive. 

Also, the company that makes the OraSure swab test is seeking government approval to sell it over the counter for home testing. A decision is expected later this year. Kudos to the CDC for this pilot program making HIV testing free and accessible for many major cities where HIV is a huge occurrence. Would you go get one if a store had one in your area? Speak!

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