Bringing HIV testing closer to home

    The federal government is launching a pilot program this week to train pharmacists to administer rapid HIV tests.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hopes offering tests at neighborhood pharmacies and retail clinics will encourage people to get tested by making it more convenient and reducing potential stigma.

    The tests being used are produced by OraSure Technologies, a Bethlehem, Pa.-based firm.

    “It’s a test that can be done with a simple oral swab, and it provides results in just 20 minutes,” said company vice president Ron Ticho. “So having it administered by pharmacists makes perfect sense.”

    Six pharmacies in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Georgia, California and Montana have been tapped so far.

    Eighteen more will be selected by the end of the summer.

    Bringing tests to people, not the other way around

    Philadelphia FIGHT is one of the dozens of places in the area that offer HIV tests.

    Executive director Jane Shull said the group tries to make testing as accessible as possible, sometimes staying open until 1 a.m.

    “We’re friendly, we give people advice, we get them into care right away,” Shull said. “But I think that we also know that there are people who won’t come here.”

    The potential stigma of walking through the door of an AIDS service organization probably scares some people away. So Shull said she thinks offering testing where people go all the time anyway is a great idea.

    Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV/AIDS prevention at the CDC, said the program is part of a shift in public health outreach.

    Officials used to urge people to go to a doctor or clinic for testing.

    “But now we want to bring testing to the people, instead of asking them to come to testing,” Mermin said.

    In a separate program, three Walgreens pharmacies in Philadelphia are offering free testing to mark National HIV Testing day Wednesday.

    The tests will be offered through Friday.

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