A new drug that for the first time makes it possible for people to learn in the privacy of their homes whether they are infected with the deadly HIV virus, has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The OraQuick test made by OraSure Technologies, simply uses a swab and gives results within 20 to 40 minutes. The availability of an HIV test as easy to use as a home-pregnancy kit is yet another step in the normalization of a disease that was once seen as a mark of shame and a death sentence.
Many people have who fear they have contracted the disease, often chose either not to undergo a test while others have been known to commit suicide rather than be told the shocking news. Many still simply keep silent even after noticing the tell-tale signs of being infected, choosing to spread the virus to unsuspecting victims rather than be known to have contracted the disease.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, a long time AIDS researcher and director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the new test a “positive step forward” and one that could help bring the 30-year-old epidemic under control.
Getting an infected person onto antiretroviral drugs lowers by as much as 96 percent the chance that he or she will transmit the virus to someone else, so testing and treatment have become crucial to prevention. About 20 per cent of the 1.2 million infected Americans do not know they have the disease, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, and about 50,000 more get infected each year.
Dr. Robert Gallo, who headed the National Institutes of Health lab that developed the first American blood test for the virus in 1984, called the FDA approval “wonderful because it will get more people into care”. The idea of a home test has long been mired in controversy. The first application for one was made in 1987, and the FDA has been considering OraSure’s simple mouth-swab test since 2005.
But the history of AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes it are unique. AIDS emerged in the 1980s wrapped in a shroud of stigma. It was spread by sex, drug injections and blood transfusions. Along with haemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians, the most vocal group of early victims was gay men, who were then in the throes of a loud and defiant liberation movement.
Because merely being tested for H.I.V. was seen as tantamount to being publicly revealed as gay or addicted to drugs, and because an H.I.V.-positive result was a death sentence, groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and newspapers like The New York Native advised their members and readers to shun testing until ironclad guarantees of anonymity were put in place.