World AIDS Day – HIV testing on the high street

By Mel Snelling, Lead on HIV and Infectious Diseases Pharmacist

It is World AIDS Day on 1 December 2012.
To mark World Aids Day the Health Protection Agency released statistics revealing there were 6,280 new HIV diagnoses in 2011, making the total number of people living with HIV in the UK 96,000. The data also shows that although late HIV diagnoses dropped slightly in 2011 a quarter of people with HIV are still unaware that they have the virus. It’s really important that these people get tested and into treatment as soon as possible.

In Oxford, where I practice as a pharmacist, the rate of HIV infection is now approximately 2 cases for every 1000 residents.  As Public health professionals we are very keen to find new ways to increase the availability and uptake of HIV testing, and offering a test at community pharmacies on the high street is one way of achieving this. 

From the beginning of January 2013, people in Oxford will be able get an HIV test at selected community pharmacies. Initially, this service will be offered at just two pharmacies but if the project is successful it will be rolled out to others.  The pharmacists who’ll do the tests have recently undergone training and will be supported by local HIV specialists and the HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust.

Everyone will be able to walk in to the selected pharmacies and request a consultation.  Members of the public will be able to talk to the pharmacist in confidence and in a dedicated consultation room.  If  they decide to go ahead the test will be carried out. A small amount of blood is taken from the finger and placed on a test strip.  Results are available within 20 minutes and if the test is positive, the pharmacist will then advise the person to go to a local clinic for a second test.

Today, many scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, and we understand so much more about the condition.HIV is now a treatable (though not curable) condition which can be managed long term like other diseases such as diabetes.  Treatment can allow people with HIV to live normal, healthy lives, reduces the risk of them passing it on to others and can even allow pregnant women with HIV to have a baby free of the virus.  Despite this, a significant number of people still don’t realise that they have HIV infection and so have risks to their own health and can unintentionally pass the virus on to others.

The really important thing is to normalise HIV testing by offering easy and accessible means for people to access services.

In Oxford we will be working with local community groups to understand barriers to testing whilst monitoring uptake of the new service to evaluate its impact locally.