HIV home-testing kits at your corner chemist

09 January 2017 - 09:43 By KATHARINE CHILD
HIV testing kit. File photo.
HIV testing kit. File photo.

Pharmacies are no longer prohibited from selling HIV self-test kits.

The SA Pharmacy Council abolished the restriction on December 23.

Francois Venter, deputy director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, said the law that had prevented pharmacies from selling HIV self-test kits but not other retailers was an "odd prohibition".

Online retailers such as Takealot sell World Health Organisation-approved HIV home-test kits that use a pinprick of blood to give results within 15 minutes.

The kits are considered to be at least 99% accurate.

"Having HIV tests available over the counter makes it easy for people to test for HIV in the privacy of their own home and might increase [willingness to be tested]," said Venter.

The government plans to have 90% of people aware of their HIV status, and 90% of HIV-positive people on treatment, by 2020, in line with UN goals.

"I'm aware that many pharmacies sold the HIV tests used in healthcare settings under the counter," said Venter.

"You could buy them openly on the shelf in the international section of OR Tambo Airport, next to other self-tests, such as those for malaria."

The SA HIV Clinicians' Society has long called for HIV self-test kits to be freely available over the counter at pharmacies and has said the belief that people would harm themselves if they tested positive at home was attributable to "paternalism".

"Large studies on self-testing found no increase in suicide or self-harm associated with a positive test result," Venter said.

"Pregnancy tests, which [can have] huge consequences and are a theoretical suicide risk, have been sold over the counter with no problem for decades."

Last month the SA Pharmacy Council gazetted draft legislation, open for public comment, to the effect that pharmacists must tell their customers that if they test positive at home they should test again for confirmation.

The draft proposes that test kits sold by pharmacies be approved by the World Health Organisation or other regulatory authority.