On April 6th this year self-testing HIV kits were approved in the UK, following a government amendment to the law, and within the next few months it is likely they will be available to buy over-the-counter for the first time. So, what is a self-testing kit?
A self-testing kit is a do-it-yourself test for HIV which uses saliva or a blood sample to provide an instant result. It is different to a home sampling/screening test where the test is done at home and then sent away for laboratory analysis, normally providing a result within 3-5 days.
Currently self-testing kits are not yet on sale in the UK and no companies have applied for a license to sell self-testing kits within the EU, even though they are now legal here. When they are finally on sale they will carry the CE mark to show they can be used safely.
What are the advantages of self-testing for HIV?
Reaction to self-testing kits has been largely positive, as reflected in this comment by a spokesperson for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, who said “”HIV self-testing kits may help increase diagnosis by providing more choice for people who have been at risk but are reluctant to get a test in person from existing services.”
Convenience: There is no booking appointments, no waiting times and no going to the clinic so self-testing is a convenient way to do an HIV test.
Privacy: Doing the test from your home is private and anonymous and you don’t need to talk to anyone about doing the test, which might be preferable for some people.
For these reasons it is possible that self-testing will increase the likelihood that those who have never tested/test infrequently know their HIV status and, as a consequence their use could result in a drop in undiagnosed HIV cases and late diagnoses.
Are there any disadvantages?
Cost: Self-testing kits need to be bought and aren’t available for free like home sampling/screening tests.
Support: When testing at a clinic or pop-up testing service you speak to a trained advisor who is able to have a pre-test discussion, answer any questions and signpost to appropriate services.
Misdiagnosis: There is some worry that people who don’t understand the test might misinterpret the result, although there were similar concerns about pregnancy testing and this is now commonplace.
Other ways to test:
Self-testing and home sampling are great additions to current testing options, but are not appropriate/preferable for everyone.
The GMI partnership offer drop-in and pop-up testing across London. For more information please call 020 7160 0941 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to find your local GU service place see the NHS website here.
In addition the Metro Centre (Vauxhall and Greenwich), Positive East (Stepney Green) and West London Gay Men’s Project (Ladbroke Grove) in London also offer free HIV testing. Please click on the organisation for more information.
NB – If you have had unprotected sex in the last 72 hours (and there is risk of HIV transmission) it is possible to take Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to reduce the chance of transmission. PEP can be obtained from and sexual health clinic or accident and emergency department.