By early next year, people in 50 states will be able to order free HIV self-tests online through Together TakeMeHome, a partnership between Emory University, public health, test manufacturer OraSure and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will provide $43 million in funding over five years.
The self-tests, which provide results in 20 minutes, will arrive in Amazon packages. Patrick Sullivan, lead infectious disease specialist for the Emory initiative, said delivering at-home tests in discreet boxes can eliminate barriers to care.
“We’re not going to end the HIV epidemic until we make testing for HIV convenient and routine,” Sulivan said. “And home testing really meets people where they are.”
HIV testing is often stigmatized or inaccessible. Though nationwide HIV cases have seen a downward trend, about a quarter of new diagnoses in 2019 were late-stage, which can lead to AIDS. That same year, Georgia recorded over 50,000 people living with HIV and 2,400 new diagnoses.
HIV testing is the first step in a continuum of care. But according to the most recent data, about a quarter of people living with HIV nationwide don’t receive care.
Speaking with GPB in July, public health worker Syndey Sandars said sometimes people fall through the cracks. Sandars is the HIV linkage coordinator for the Northeast Public Health district, working to get people tests and connect them to care.
“Even if they run off and stuff, we still try and make sure we can do everything we can for them,” Sandars said. “But I have had some successes in re-linking people, and that gives me a lot of hope.”
So part of Emory’s project will include follow-up with people who order the self-tests.
Over 5,200 kits were ordered as part of Emory’s pilot version of the TakeMeHome project, which launched in March 2020 and operated for 12 months.
“The linkage to care for HIV was no worse when people tested at home than when they sought tests at a community based organization or their provider,” Sullivan said, referring to findings from Emory’s pilot project.
By advertising Together TakeMeHome on dating apps and through local clinics, Sullivan hopes to take advantage of “risk networks,” or groups of people most at risk of HIV infection. Six times as many Black men and 17 times as many Black women live with HIV as compared to their white counterparts. Southern states have the highest rates of HIV cases in the country.
Rapid HIV tests were approved by the CDC in 2002, and it wasn’t until 2006 that regular HIV testing for those most at risk became common practice. Since then, the number of people living with HIV who use pre-exposure prophylaxis has increased substantially — almost fortyfold. PrEP is a highly effective medication in reducing the risk for HIV.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.