Some people opposed to the public testing of teens are medical practitioners and nursing personnel. They express the sentiment and opinions that youth should only be tested for HIV behind closed doors in sterile infectious diseases testing rooms where counseling and surveillance can be maintained at all times.
Perhaps they feel that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a very bad decision last year when it allowed the OTC sale of the oral swab (saliva) HIV home test kits in drugstores nationwide. Anyone can freely buy the kits as long as they can prove they are 17 years of age or older. No other requirement is necessary. A high school degree is not needed. In fact anyone with any number of disorders can buy one.
It bears repeating that the FDA allowed this new home testing method after a careful review of its efficacy where some medical personnel objections were dismissed as not enough to overrule the learned FDA panel, its strenuous review process and respected staff.
A friend of TA-PC at the NIH said the professional objections raised were more a matter of protecting ‘”turf” and job security than worries about tests being placed in the wrong hands (ordinary citizens). If a real danger existed, wouldn’t the FDA have erred on the side of caution, not reckless experimentation? Once regular people understood they could test themselves in the privacy of their home — or anywhere they choose — they don’t need to visit a hospital at an appointed time or have health insurance. The power to test is in their hands!
One thing that I learned well when co-lecturing at Harvard’s School of Public Health on AIDS vulnerability, was that it takes a special personality to communicate with teens. Unfortunately, most physicians operate under tight schedules and not all have a comforting bedside manner according to youth who avoid intimidating medical venues at all costs if possible.
Why do 90% of U.S. youth choose not to go to hospitals or clinics, even family doctors’ offices, to get tested? Simply put, the AIDS stigma is still overwhelming and they would rather not know their status than be tested by a serious-minded professional in a cold, sterile environment.
We take the test kits directly to the streets, parks and malls – wherever adolescents choose to gather on their own turf. We offer expert advice by trained college-age peers trained by me and give them the opportunity to test their own bodies themselves. They express genuine interest and are more eager to be tested among friends, even signing waivers that they agree to be tested publicly to raise awareness among peers.
Every teen we test is a brave pioneer in this movement. Kudos to them. I will write next about the Health Director of Virginia Beach and her opposition to our public testing as a case in point.