In the UK we’re now legally allowed to purchase kits to test for HIV in our own homes. Aside from the drawback that no approved testing kits currently exist in the UK I have more worrying concerns about the change in the law.
There are three main reasons why I don’t agree with the changes:
- Ignoring stigma
- General sexual health
- Willingness to access post diagnosis care following a positive result
I can completely understand the logic of needing to increase testing in the country, too few people have regular sexual health checks and many people are worried about attending clinics, this is presumed to be due to the stigma attached in doing so. And that’s my first issue with home testing. Rather than investing in a strategic, long term plan to eradicate stigma, normalise sexual health clinic attendance and educate the public about HIV, the government is attempting a cheap, quick, ‘sticky-tape’ approach.
The stigma that those of us with a positive diagnosis experience is not being challenged at all. If anything it is being enforced. Don’t visit a clinic where you’ll be judged and arbitrated. No, stay in your own home so the world doesn’t have to witness the shame and disgust of you looking after your own sexual health? Society needs to start viewing visits to sexual health clinics in the same way we look upon trips to the doctor, dentist, opticians or other health care facilities. Visiting a sexual health clinic is about looking after your body, and sexual health doesn’t stop with knowing your HIV status. We need to challenge the attitudes associated with clinics, home testing is about finding a way to work around them rather than face them.
Secondly when the test kits become available how do health care professionals expect or plan to encourage users to get tested for the variety of other sexually transmitted infections? I didn’t just acquire HIV from the man who infected me; I caught chlamydia and gonorrhoea from him too. I believe he didn’t know his status, and probably didn’t get tested regularly either.
Whilst the unlucky few who test positive are likely to receive further sexual health checks the new process will mean many people aren’t being checked for other common infections. It’s easier to think of HIV as ‘the big one’ but many of the other diseases are also incredibly dangerous, particularly if they’re left unchecked for a considerable time and that is the danger if people only test for HIV.
My final concern is how people will react if they should test positive. It’s one thing finding out in an environment where the staff are trained to deal with all sorts of different reactions. Some people will handle the news with a level head and have no issue seeking further medical attention, but we can’t deny that there is a risk that others will ‘freak out’, fear the worst and perhaps act irrationally or without proper considerations as to what is best for them.
We already know that the gay community in particular suffer with a higher proportion of mental health related issues, low self-esteem and higher suicide rates than society as a whole.
The public don’t know enough about HIV and how in 2014 within the UK you can live normally with the virus, but this is reliant on patients seeking and receiving correct care. Is home testing responsible? Should we be following this path in the hope it increases testing. Why, yet again, are we in the position where we are so keen to pursue something because it might have an influence in the global fight against HIV that we’re not considering the bigger picture?