The first legally approved home HIV self-testing kits have gone on sale in the UK. The kits are able to detect antibodies in small drops of blood and can provide a result in 15 minutes, although positive results must then be re-confirmed at a clinic.
Manufacturers BioSURE claim their self-test kit is more than 99 per cent accurate from three months after suspected exposure, although it cannot detect infections that have occurred within the last three months. The single-use, disposable device ‘has gone through extensive scrutiny’, says BioSURE, and is the only one so far approved for sale in the UK.
The ability to test outside of a clinical setting has been welcomed by HIV organisations, although they stress the importance of fast access to support after a positive result. ‘We campaigned for a long time to secure the legalisation of HIV self-test kits which happened in April 2014, so it is great to see the first self-test kits being approved,’ said Terrence Higgins Trust chief executive Dr Rosemary Gillespie. ‘We know that if people are diagnosed with HIV and start treatment early then they can avoid serious complications and lead long and healthy lives. Unfortunately 24 per cent of people living with HIV in the UK remain undiagnosed, so we have to do much more to encourage people to test.’
‘We currently have a long way to go when it comes to diagnosing people with HIV on time,’ added National Aids Trust chief executive Deborah Gold. ‘Over 40 per cent of people living with HIV are diagnosed late, meaning they have been living with HIV for at least four years. People diagnosed late are eleven times more likely to die in the first year after diagnosis. To address this public health challenge we need to look at new ways for people to test, and self-testing is an important and welcome additional option.’
Meanwhile, the Terrence Higgins Trust has called on the incoming government to commit to four key changes in HIV policy, including training to help end stigma in health and social care settings, making HIV prevention a national public health priority and ensuring appropriate financial support for people affected by HIV-related illness.