At-Home HIV Test Kit Now Sold at South African Pharmacies

South African Pharmacy Council lifts ban preventing pharmacies from selling DIY HIV test kits.

Local pharmacies in South Africa are now selling an at-home HIV testing kit, according to the Daily Maverick.

Up until late last year, the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC) banned pharmacies from selling DIY HIV test kits, despite evidence demonstrating its efficacy.

The ban was initially placed on the kits due to concerns regarding the need for counselling when testing for HIV, which cannot be enforced with at-home tests.

Amos Masango, chief executive officer of the SAPC, told IOL in an interview that the council compromised by lifting the ban, but will still require pharmacists to provide buyers with information at the point of sale.

Pharmacists should inform patients that the take-home kit is only a screening test and cannot be relied on for a final diagnosis. If the test is positive, individuals should get a second HIV test to confirm their results, according to IOL.

“The pharmacist must make sure that the customer is able to interpret the results of the test, while also remembering that the results are not conclusive because they would still need to go to a medical practitioner to confirm the results,” Masango said in the report.

Additionally, the draft legislation enforces pharmacies to only sell tests approved by the World Health Organization.

“This is most certainly a step in the right direction,” Michelle Moorhouse, senior programs manager at the Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Wits, told IOL. “We do not have enough health care facilities and we do not have enough resources, so for people to be able to buy an HIV self-testing kit at their pharmacy takes some strain off of our overburdened health care system.”

Currently there are approximately 7 million individuals in South Africa who are HIV-positive. Moorhouse said that the sale of the HIV self-testing kits at pharmacies was long overdue.

“We have tough targets to meet in terms of HIV [and] with an epidemic the size of ours, where we currently have about 3.4 million people on treatment in [South Africa], and around 7 million infected, it would be challenging to reach that first 90 with testing being only available within health care facilities,” Moorhouse told IOL. “This makes it difficult for some people to access HIV testing as facilities are not open 24/7, seven days a week, making it inaccessible to many, including men, adolescents, and youth who are the very people who are not being diagnosed, and so not getting onto treatment.

“Some people would also simply prefer to test in their own space and in their own time, and self-testing allows this.”

Moorhouse stressed that a positive test result would not necessarily trigger suicidal behavior, despite prior concerns.

“This was a concern when self-testing was first conceptualized, but large studies which monitored closely for social harms and set up helplines, found that this really has not been the case,” Moorhouse told IOL. “There were similar concerns when over-the-counter pregnancy tests were first introduced eons ago. It is an overly paternalistic approach, and modern medicine isn’t about that paternalism of old. Self-testing is empowering and studies done so far have demonstrated it is safe.

“Very importantly though, if someone tests positive with a self-test, they should have this result confirmed at a clinic or their GP.”