Kits 99.7% accurate and take 15 minutes – but £33.99 cost could be out of reach of many
Superdrug has become the first large high street British retailer to sell HIV self-testing kits.
The health and beauty chain will offer the kits across its 200 pharmacy stores for £33.99. The retailer said offering home-testing equipment would help reduce waiting times for results and could help increase early diagnosis rates.
Superdrug will stock the BioSURE HIV Self Test, which has a a 99.7% accuracy rate and in 2015 became the first legally approved self-testing kit in the UK. It uses a small amount of blood from a finger-prick sample to detect the presence of HIV antibodies and offers a result in 15 minutes.
HIV, a virus which attacks the immune system, has become more manageable in recent years owing to developments in available treatments. However, about one in eight people living with HIV in the UK remain undiagnosed.
The move has been welcomed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, a British charity which campaigns and provides services relating to HIV and sexual health.
Marc Thompson, the health improvement lead at the trust, said: “It’s great to see a big high street brand like Superdrug recognising the need for providing self-test kits.”
However, he said not everyone would be able to afford to buy one and stressed that the test could be carried out at no charge at sexual health clinics. “We’re also offering free self-tests kits for communities most affected by HIV in the UK,” Thompson said.
While such home-testing kits are highly accurate, positive results must be confirmed at clinics. Free testing for HIV is usually offered by sexual health clinics, most GP surgeries and charities.
Dr Pixie McKenna, a GP and Superdrug’s health expert, said: “Superdrug’s move to encourage and empower patients to self-test for HIV is one further step forward … While there is no cure, early diagnosis is key in terms of management.”
In May the Terrence Higgins Trust launched a programme to enable high-risk groups to order free HIV self-testing kits.
The six-month project, supported by Public Health England’s innovation fund, means at-risk groups can log on to the charity’s website, enter their details and choose any delivery address or opt to click and collect to receive a kit.
The charity estimates there are 10,400 people in the UK who do not know they are living with HIV. This means they are not on effective medication and could unknowingly be passing on the virus.
In 2017 Public Health England revealed a big drop in the numbers of gay men becoming infected with HIV in London. Experts said it might mean Britain’s epidemic was coming to a close.
The reasons for the fall were thought to be the big step up in testing, and offering immediate antiretroviral drug treatment to those who test positive, which suppresses the virus.
Additionally, significant numbers of gay men in London have been taking pre-exposure prophylaxis PrEP, a drug used to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected. It is nearly 100% effective when taken as prescribed and available on the NHS in Scotland, and as part of an unlimited trial in Wales.
By Sarah Marsh