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At-Home HIV Tests May Reduce Spread of the Disease, Eliminate Stigma

Update Date: Apr 03, 2013 10:02 AM EDT

Acccording to UNAIDS, 2.5 million people in the world become infected with HIV each year. Recent high-profile cases of functional cures of adults in France and a baby in the United States prove one thing: that early treatment of HIV is the best hope for a long life after a positive diagnosis, in lieu of any cure. However, despite this fact, 50 percent of HIV-positive people do not know that they have it and, while both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend routine HIV screening, it is a service that few governments provide. According to a recent study, the best way to combat the HIV health crisis is to make home tests available. Doing so can allow more people to be treated more quickly and eliminate the stigma of HIV tests.

According to the Montreal Gazette, the researchers analyzed 21 studies on the subject, conducted in Africa, Europe, India and North America. The studies examined home-based methods that were primarily performed in one of two ways: a blood drop from a finger or a gum swab. Both were fast, convenient and private. The gum swab was non-invasive and generally preferred; however, with 98.5 percent accuracy, it was also slightly less accurate than the blood test, which was 99 percent accurate. However, both were less accurate (93 percent) when they were administered by consumers in their own homes without the presence of a medical professional.

Combined with counseling, home tests may allow for early detection and treatment, thus reducing patients' chances of passing on the illness. If the test is positive, according to Health Day, it requires confirmation with a medical professional.

The oral swab has proved helpful in India. Because women who are unaware of their HIV status can unwillingly pass the disease on to their fetuses, these at-home tests allow HIV-positive women to be treated and virtually eliminate the chances of passing on the disease to their babies.

In the United States, oral tests are already available for $20.

"We have, as a society, made great progress with biomedical tools, drugs and strategies, but we haven't conquered HIV-related stigma and perceived discrimination," the investigators stated. "The time is right to tailor strategies to suit the preferences and lifestyles of patients with a view to expand access."

The study was published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

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