Self-Testing for HIV Proves Preferable, Easy Among IV Drug Users

Self-testing for HIV is fast and easy, and test kits can be completed at a health department with the help of staff or at home and dropped off later.

An estimated majority of all new HIV cases are contracted through injection drugs, with 2500 infections each year among people who use drugs (PWUD). Despite this rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 50-70% declines in HIV testing once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In high-risk Kentucky, HIV testing stopped completely at the start of the pandemic before resuming very slowly, prompting investigators for Norton Healthcare to study the acceptability of an HIV self-testing program. The investigators sought to calculate descriptive statistics for testing location, testing self-efficacy, reasons and motivations, ease of use, and preferences for future services.

The self-testing program, OraQuick In-Home HIV Test by OraSure Technologies was implemented by a Louisville, KY health department to address the inadequate testing among PWUD.

The investigators found that from May-June 2021, 230 PWUD used the self-testing program, for an average of 18 people a day. Of the participants, 87.8% self-tested at the health department with the help of staff, while 12.2% opted to test at home and return it to the facility later.

The study showed that 77% of PWUD felt the self-test kit made them feel more confident in tracking their HIV status than traditional testing methods. The most common reasons for choosing to self-test for HIV were wanting to know their status (85%), the test was free (37%), the results were fast (31%) there was more privacy (23%), they had engaged in recent high-risk drug use and/or sexual behaviors (17%).

Almost all (97%) said the test kits were very easy to use. For future testing, 33% said they would use the self-tests monthly, 28% planned to use them every three months, 22% every six months, and 17% annually. 72% planned to take the test kit at home next time, while 28% wanted to test at the health department with help from staff.

To learn more about self-testing, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) site.

The study, “Preliminary Findings from a HIV Self-Testing Program among People Who Use Drugs,” was presented virtually by Michelle Rose, MBA at IDWeek 2021, held September 29-October 3, 2021.