HIV/AIDS is a huge health problem in the world and a cure still seems years away. Yet even though a cure has eluded us, testing for the disease can be an extremely effective tool to slow it’s spread. Which raises the question: why aren’t more people getting tested? Currently only 45% of American adults have ever taken an HIV/AIDS test. Why is it that HIV/AIDS testing is still not as simple and quick as it should be? In the technologically advanced world that we live in these days, it is surprising that the whole process hasn’t been more simplified, making more people likely to get tested. Testing needs to become easier and faster to make more people want to voluntarily take the test. Could mandatory testing at a certain age help to reduce the numbers? There are are people who seem to think so.
An experiment taking place at San Francisco’s Urban School provides a good example of people taking charge. The entire senior class of 80 students is going to be getting tested for HIV at the school with supplies donated by OraSure Technologies. The experiment is completely voluntary but so far every student has signed up for it and will be participating. Students will have the option of receiving the results via phone, email or regular mail. This will save embarrassment for those who don’t want to share their results if they were given out at the school itself.
This is a great step to raise awareness among the young generation of that school, but there is a bigger situation at hand here. The waiting period between the test and the results holds a lot of people back from getting tested, due to feelings of anxiety while waiting for the results. Currently, the most common and accurate way to test for HIV/AIDS is with a blood test, but it is also the most intrusive and takes the longest to get the results from. A saliva test is much less intrusive and the results come much quicker, but is not nearly as accurate. A more accurate saliva test would be ideal, but so far that solution has evaded us. In the near term, therefore, a blood test that can give cheaper, faster results would be a huge win.
Abbott Labs is doing just that and making the whole process easier on people deciding to take the responsibility to get tested. Well known for their Arthritis aid, Humira and their Cholesterol lowering pill, Tricor, their innovations in HIV/AIDS testing are major. Their new test called ARCHITECT HIV Ag/Ab Combo Assay is said to be faster and more accurate than any other and is the only fourth-generation HIV assay being sold in the USA today. It can give results approximately one week faster than normal tests and has been approved for pregnant women. Earlier detection in pregnant women will allow treatment to begin early and help prevent the virus from being transmitted to the fetus. On its release date in 2010, 99 hospitals began using it for patients.
Faster results won’t directly bring down numbers, but will encourage people to get tested more. Of course there are instant HIV tests sold on the internet but their accuracy is questionable at best. The problem is that these new quicker, more accurate tests obviously come at an inflated price, turning many people away. So with the technology and means to make the process more comfortable, why is there not more government funding going towards making these the industry standard at an affordable price? This could be a huge advancement in bringing down our HIV/AIDS numbers.
Men and women are urged to get tested for prostate and breast cancer once they reach a certain age. Why should the HIV/AIDS test be any different? Some people may find it offensive if they were urged to get an HIV/AIDS test as they may feel it suggests they are promiscuous. Does the fear of being offensive keep us from having these tests suggested to us at the doctor? Better policies should be in place and not just with slogans and campaigns. The medical community should be pushing HIV/AIDS testing as something that should be performed at various points throughout a person’s life, mainly in the 18-35 age bracket. Barack Obama took the HIV/AIDS test publicly in Kenya a few years back, maybe it is time now that he is president to make a similar example to Americans.
There are many organizations such as Planned Parenthood that are not only trying to raise awareness for STDs and HIV/AIDS, but also offer the tests for a low price or sometimes even free. Currently, an HIV/AIDS test will not be included in a general STD test unless it is asked for specifically – a practice which needs to be improved upon. This makes the whole process feel a bit like a fast food transaction. Asking the equivalent of “Do you want fries with that?” is not an appropriate way of tackling this situation.
Privacy raises another issue and a moral conflict is bound to arise as to the confidentiality of the results of infected patients. Hospitals and doctors have an obligation to their patients to keep things confidential and they surely will. Many people might feel an invasion of their privacy if there were to be a system that required HIV/AIDS testing at a certain age. Along the same lines they could be testing for a whole lot of different diseases all at once, taking the fear of the term “AIDS test” away just a little bit. Getting a full panel test for a broad range of diseases that could be tested for by blood could be a great way to make people feel more comfortable about the experience. It might not ever become mandatory in the legal sense but if it became a social expectation to perform the test at a certain age the benefits could really be huge.
The situation in the US is still far from ideal, but in all honesty the level of HIV/AIDS education in our country is much better than the large majority of the rest of the world. The fact remains though that we are living in an age where technology is growing so rapidly, that it seems like HIV/AIDS testing is way behind where it should be. Results are not fast enough and tests not nearly cheap enough given the type of technology that could be thrown at the issue. I believe that there is a way to make everything much easier and cheaper: the question that remains is when it will actually happen.
[image credit: Zeldalily, BBC]