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Home HIV tests debated

19th January 2007

20092006_hiv1.jpgA health professional has called the ban on home HIV tests 'outdated'.

Lucy Frith of Liverpool University says that the ban on DIY testing kits for HIV is unwarranted and a breach of patient autonomy.  Home HIV tests were made illegal in 1992 amid concerns that a person could discover they had HIV without access to help, advice and counselling.  But Ms Frith argues that this is not a strong enough reason to ban the tests and has called for the law to be changed.

Ms Frith told The Lancet she believed that more people might get tested if they were able to do so in the privacy of their own homes.  "If practitioners truly believe in patient autonomy, people should be allowed to choose where, when and how they are tested for HIV, where the technology exists," she explained.  She argues that the current requirement of face-to-face counselling before testing deters some people from having the test.  It is estimated that over 30 per cent of UK people are unaware of their HIV status and yet early diagnosis is vital to improve treatment and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

However, HIV experts are divided over whether lifting the ban would do harm or good. Annabel Kannabus of HIV charity AVERT said she believed self-testing should not be allowed to go ahead, mainly because of the lack of counselling and information available to a person learning their test result.  "You can't have people dealing on their own with the news that they are HIV positive.  Most people initially are going to panic and think that they are going to die," she said. 

The Department of Health said it would be taking advice from an expert advisory group on whether to review the legislation.  A company recently took advantage of a loophole in the law and launched a home HIV testing kit in the UK.  The test involves an individual sending a saliva sample to a laboratory and, if negative, they receive their result via email.  However, DIY kits where all stages of the test take part in the home remain illegal.

 

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