After decades of debates, the Food and Drug Administration has finally approved a quick test for HIV for over-the-counter sale, making it possibly for the first time for those who fear exposure to the virus that causes AIDS the ability to learn if they are infected in the privacy of their own homes.
It also removes a vital part of current testing practiced at clinic around the country.
No longer will those who learn they have HIV be immediately in the presence of counseling.
Jose Servantes, who has been giving HIV tests to patients for 13 years at the San Antonio Aids Foundation, says telling someone they have tested positive remains the most difficult job at the agency.
“The are really lost at that point when they hear that result," he said. "They don’t know what to do. So many things go through their mind.”
He says the clinic's job to help patients who test positive to realize that it’s no longer a death sentence.
In-home testing removes that sort of reality check.
SAAF Executive Director Jill Rips agrees, noting that the main people who will benefit from the in-home test are people who live in rural areas who either don’t have access to discreet medical testing or transportation to get to a clinic.
For the rest, however, she doesn’t think it’s a smart option.
The Foundation’s clinic offers the same type of 20-minute saliva test as the one approved by the FDA.
However, SAAF’s test is offered free, and instead of waiting for the result alone, patients always have crucial counseling and information in hand so as to avoid more problems down the line.
“There is nothing as good as having someone right there who is very knowledgeable and comforting who understands what’s involved,” she said.
And even if the in-home test result comes up with a positive HIV infection indicated, Rips warns that patients will still need to go to a medical clinic and get a confirmatory test that will be mailed out to yet another clinic.
Without the second test, there is no assurance that the result was accurate.
Last year, SAAF conducted 3,300 free quick HIV tests, but a new grant will allow them to expand their testing to yet another 1,000 residents.
As well, a recent study revealed that some people who wanted testing could not get to the clinic during regular business hours.
New hours have been announced to reach that population. They run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
You may contact www.txsaaf.org for more information on services and general HIV information.