Saturday, June 27th, 2020 is National HIV Testing Day. Knowing your HIV status is the critical first step to living a long and healthy life. In Texas, there are roughly 16,000 people living with HIV and unaware of their status.
While we are all staying safe during the coronavirus epidemic by staying home and practicing social distance, HIV testing may be a challenge. Many testing sites have limited hours or have changed other practices to keep their communities safe. One exciting new strategy that organizations may be providing to ensure testing is available to their communities is HIV mail order self-testing kits.
HIV self-testing (or HIV home testing) is a promising testing modality, especially for individuals who do not or cannot access HIV services in traditional healthcare settings. The availability of home HIV tests may help increase awareness of HIV among people who wouldn’t otherwise be tested. During the coronavirus era, interest in home testing is stronger than ever for many people.
In the U.S. the OraQuick In-Home HIV test is the only FDA-approved home HIV test. This test kit is designed to allow users to take an HIV test with the collection of an oral fluid sample and find out their result within 20 to 40 minutes.
Virginia, Arizona, and New York City have piloted the delivery of home test kits and found that this process enabled them to reach individuals who hadn’t tested recently. In some cases, they have succeeded in reaching a higher positivity rate than traditional testing strategies.
- New York City: 28% of testers hadn’t tested in the previous year and 14% hadn’t ever tested. They reported a positivity rate of 0.3%
- Virginia: 29% of testers hadn’t tested in the previous year and 21% hadn’t ever tested. They reported a positivity rate of 1.3%; 88% of new positives were linked to care within 30 days.
- Arizona reported a positivity rate of 1.2%.
In a recent NASTAD video, presenters from Virginia and Arizona shared their experience:
eSTAMP was a national randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate the public health benefits of mailing HIV self-tests to Internet-recruited gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the US in 2015 and 2016. Compared to men in the control group, men who were mailed HIV self-tests:
- Tested themselves more frequently
- Identified significantly more prevalent HIV infections
- Did not increase sexual risk behaviors
- Shared the study HIV self-test with members of their social network, resulting in many more persons becoming aware of their HIV infection.
In addition, the new program TakeMeHome is currently piloting a national free home HIV testing program. The program, which is a partnership between Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC), Emory University, and NASTAD, will allow state and local health departments to offer free, confidential HIV and STD testing delivered securely and discreetly. During the pilot phase, TakeMeHome will target MSM who use dating apps, but project leaders expect to expand to other populations in the future.