Self-test­ing to boost HIV bat­tle

China Daily (Canada) - - TOP NEWS - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­

China is to make HIV self­test­ing kits more widely avail­able in an at­tempt to di­ag­nose as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble and pro­vide them with timely treat­ment.

The de­vel­op­ment was dis­closed by the na­tion’s lead­ing AIDS spe­cial­ist in an exclusive in­ter­view with China Daily.

Wu Zun­you said all pos­si­ble out­lets, from on­line shop­ping plat­forms to brick-and­mor­tar drug­stores, would be ap­proached in the ini­tia­tive, which is sched­uled to be­gin soon, although no start­ing date has been re­leased.

De­spite pol­icy re­straints, “we will pi­lot and then pro­mote HIV self-test­ing by mak­ing the kits eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble”, said Wu, head of the Na­tional Cen­ter for AIDS and Sex­u­ally Trans­mit­ted Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

“Cur­rent screen­ing prac­tices ap­pear to have lost mo­men­tum in de­tect­ing pa­tients.”

China’s health au­thor­i­ties have long urged the pub­lic to seek free HIV screen­ing at the 2,000 govern­ment-op­er­ated vol­un­tary coun­sel­ing and test­ing clin­ics na­tion­wide.

How­ever, many peo­ple are re­luc­tant to be tested, fear­ing their HIV sta­tus will be con­firmed and be­come widely known, which could re­sult in dis­crim­i­na­tion.

While the num­ber of HIV tests per­formed rose by more than 400 per­cent be­tween 2007 and last year, the de­tec­tion rate fell by about 50 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Wu, cit­ing data from the Na­tion­wide Epi­demic Sur­veil­lance Net­work.

Last year, more than 100 mil­lion tests were car­ried out, mainly in gov­ern­men­trun out­lets, such as vol­un­tary coun­sel­ing and test­ing clin­ics and pub­lic hos­pi­tals.

Wu hopes the greater anonymity of­fered by the new out­lets will en­cour­age more peo­ple to be tested.

“Self-test­ing could pro­vide a so­lu­tion and reach out to those un­der the radar, help­ing to link them to care, such as coun­sel­ing and treat­ment,” he said.

A re­cent sales re­port by on­line med­i­cal provider AliHealth, a sub­sidiary of e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba, showed a sub­stan­tial rise in sales of HIV self-test­ing kits that use oral swabs to col­lect saliva, par­tic­u­larly among men age 20 to 29. Kit prices range from 30 yuan to 200 yuan ($4.60 to $31).

How­ever, the ini­tia­tive could prove con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause the kits are only ap­proved for use by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, and Wu said that sell­ing them to in­di­vid­u­als on­line re­mains a gray area.

“We are in dis­cus­sions with the drugs au­thor­i­ties to fine­tune the rules and fa­cil­i­tate sales of self-test­ing kits, both on­line and in drug­stores,” he said.

Ling Yu, sales man­ager for the Aware brand of self-test­ing kits, said the prod­ucts have been widely avail­able on­line since 2012, and sales con­tinue to rise. “Our ma­jor tar­gets for in­di­vid­ual pur­chases are sex­u­ally ac­tive young peo­ple who use the in­ter­net a lot,” he said.

Wu said on­line plat­forms, such as so­cial net­work­ing ser­vices, are seen as ef­fi­cient tools for de­liv­er­ing in­for­ma­tion and sup­port to self-testers, but fur­ther re­search and in­ves­ti­ga­tion are needed to in­tro­duce self­test­ing to more peo­ple.

Pi­lot projects in which the kits will be avail­able at se­lected drug­stores are un­der­way in the Shi­jing­shan district of Bei­jing and in a num­ber of cities in Yun­nan prov­ince that have a high preva­lence of HIV.

The find­ings will be help­ful in guid­ing fur­ther ex­pan­sion na­tion­wide, Wu said.

A gay man in Bei­jing, who iden­ti­fied him­self as “Xiao Tian”, said he had bought test­ing kits on­line sev­eral times.

“That freed me from go­ing to the clinic. I don’t want to be seen there. AIDS dis­crim­i­na­tion is still rife in China,” he said.

Wu Zun­you, head of the Na­tion Cen­ter for AIDS and Sex­u­ally Trans­mit­ted Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion

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