Free rapid HIV testing could be available at a Walgreens pharmacy near you, if all goes well with a pilot program being launched by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month. Over the next two years, they’ll offer the tests free of charge at pharmacies in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as a clinic in Georgia, and gathering data to develop a nationwide program. Those who test positive for HIV will get a physician referral and care plan, but counseling isn’t in the cards, at least for now…but if the program helps the estimated 200,000 HIV-positive Americans who are undiagnosed get help, I’d say it’s probably work the compromise in emotional support.
The CDC’s HIV/AIDS Prevention director Jonathan Mermin, M.D., explained that the new program is aimed at improving public health:
Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check. This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected.
Currently, the CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and 20% of them are undiagnosed. Diagnosing that 20% would not only improve their chances at successful long-term treatment and management of the disease; it would also help prevent further spread of the precursor to AIDS.
The counseling provided in many clinics is, of course, has clear benefits for patients, and not just in terms of getting referrals for emotional support. Under the CDC’s own HIV counseling guidelines, patients are meant to get information about prevention and the meaning of their test results, which is vital information even if you test negative. A national program may not have the resources to offer such counseling to every patient who gets tested, but then, neither do many existing programs now.