Everything You Need to Know about HIV Self-Testing Kits

Lots of good things have stemmed from the commercial availability of HIV self-testing kits. An interesting new report suggests that DIY testing kits are nearly five times as likely to be associated with fist-time testing as venue-based tests in a laboratory.

Having an opportunity to get tested in the comfort and the privacy of one’s own home is bound to get more people focused on adequate prevention. Knowing one’s status is tremendously empowering and one of the most important factors to contribute to the eventual end of the HIV pandemic.

While all of these advantages are really important, however, HIV self-test kits aren’t associated solely with positive results. There are various limitations and shortcomings that have to be considered in the context of improving overall healthcare results.

Does HIV Self-Testing Lead to Subsequent Actions?

People do find it a lot easier to get tested at home.

New research, however, suggests that getting test results quickly and easily doesn’t necessarily mean undertaking subsequent actions.

Researchers have found out that self-testing is not correlated to the initiation of treatment after a positive result.

The findings stem from a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on the topic. Fifteen studies met the criteria for inclusion in the meta analysis.

While HIV self-testing did increase a person’s chances of finding specialised assistance at a clinic or through a healthcare service provider, however, the likelihood of initiating a treatment or an HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen remained unaffected.

The results are also not great when looking at specific sub-groups and high risk demographics. For men who have sex with men, the availability of HIV self-testing kits increased the likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex. Female sex workers who use self-test kits are 47 per cent more likely to seek specialised medical care but they do not reduce the number of clients they have encounters with on a daily basis.

It’s important to note that the findings are somewhat biased due to the limited number of studies on the topic of HIV self-testing. Only one study focuses on the way that DIY testing kits affect PrEP regimens among men who have sex with men.

The next important step aimed at improving results is understanding why some of the people who test positive do not seek medical care. Additional interviews and clinical trials will be required to establish patterns of behaviour and the best interventions meant to address those.

Concerns about Accuracy

There is one more important consideration and it’s the accuracy of DIY HIV testing kits.

The tests themselves are accurate and reliable. When the procedure is performed by someone who’s not a trained medical professional, however, the risk of mistakes increases.

Most of the DIY testing kits available on the market today are modified versions of the clinical tests used in laboratories. In order to get a result, people will need to collect a specimen (usually blood but saliva may also be used in some instances) and use a reactive that the specimen is applied to. This means the individual is also responsible for interpreting the results.

Several studies suggest that people may commit a few mistakes when doing a self-test at home. Among the users of DIY HIV kits, there were more invalid results whenever a blood sample had to be collected instead of saliva. The invalid results stemmed from incomplete sample collection, spilling, incorrect use of the solution included in the kit and problems transferring the blood sample.

At the same time, blood-based results are more accurate.

Research suggests that blood-based HIV tests performed at home are approximately 92 per cent accurate. In comparison, laboratory testing has an accuracy rate of 99 per cent.

With oral rapid tests that are based on saliva, false positives are likely once per 5,000 tests and false negatives are likely once per 12 tests.

Feel Empowered, Know the Limitations!

HIV self-testing can be the first step towards better prophylaxis for many people. This is especially important for high risk individuals and those who lack ready, effortless access to healthcare services.

While getting tested at home is a lot better than doing nothing at all, it’s crucial to understand the limitations of such kits. It’s also very important to undertake action upon finding the results instead of just leaving things as they are.

The first thing everyone should understand about HIV DIY tests is that they’re the most accurate at least three months after an infection has occurred. As already mentioned, false negatives are also likely after that period. So, the best course of action is to confirm the results of any test with a subsequent one.

If you do a self-test at home and you get a positive result, you should most definitely follow up with a visit to a clinic.

Medical facilities like Shim Clinic in Singapore provide easy access to reliable sexual healthcare services. You can have your questions answered during a confidential session, you can get re-tested and you’ll find out more about the options available to you.

Contact Shim Clinic now to find out more or visit us during working hours every day of the week.