About 100,000 people in the United Kingdom are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which is known for causing the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV attacks the body's natural system, making the patient vulnerable and unable to fight off diseases. Of those infected with HIV in the UK, around 22,000 are not even aware that they are infected.
To encourage those who suspect they may have been infected with HIV to seek early diagnosis, the United Kingdom has made the sale of HIV home testing kits legal. The law, which takes effect this week, now allows people to buy HIV tests that they can use at home and read the results themselves.
Doing an HIV test at home and analyzing the result yourself used to be prohibited in the UK. Although people can purchase tests over the counter or online and take samples themselves, they still need to send the kits for laboratory testing and receive the results later, usually over the phone.
With the change in law, people can now conduct at-home HIV testing using samples of their blood or saliva without the need to send them to a lab for analysis as the self-testing kits can give a negative or positive result in almost no time. Those who have a reactive test are encouraged to take another test, but in a professional health care setting.
The implementation of the law coincides with the government's launch of a campaign that highlights the risks of HIV in older women, who may not typically see themselves as vulnerable, as data from the Public Health England show that the number of women over age 50 who are newly diagnosed as HIV positive has increased to more than 200 per year over the last 10 years.
Notably, however, HIV testing kits that meet European standards are not yet available in the UK.
"At the moment no HIV self-test kits have been approved for UK sale," said Jane Anderson, Public Health England's lead for HIV, sexual and reproductive health. "However, when these become available, the option of HIV self-testing will be another step forward in tackling the HIV epidemic."
Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that focuses on AIDS and HIV-related issues, said that it's a shame the changes in the law came into effect at a time when no viable test is yet available. The government, however, said that it expects the situation to change by next year.