Sunday Times (Johannesburg) - January 24, 2012
A new study on oral HIV tests has added fire to the debate on
whether self-testing should be allowed in South Africa.
The study, which compared the accuracy of testing for HIV using
cheek and gum tissue (oral mucosal transudate) to blood tests,
was published in the Lancet medical journal online today. It said
the oral tests were 2% less accurate than blood-based specimens.
Head researcher Nitika Pant Pai, from McGill University Health
Centre's infectious diseases division, in Montreal, Canada, wrote
that there is "an increased acceptance and preference for [oral
HIV tests]" in Kenya and Uganda because of the privacy of testing
oneself from home.
The "non-invasive" and "pain-free" Oraquick test is "being
considered for potential use as an over-the-counter test in the
USA and in many sub-Saharan countries," the Lancet reported.
Currently only a few pharmacies sell blood-based HIV test kits in
South Africa, which, like all medical devices, are not subject to
SA Medical Association vice-chairman Dr Mark Sonderup said: "If
you're testing 50million people, 2% [less sensitivity] is a lot."
Sonderup said blood HIV tests were the "gold standard".
However, self-testing has been strongly promoted by the head of
the HIV Clinicians' Society, Dr Francois Venter, who wrote in the
SA Medical Journal in October 2010 that "self-testing should be
made widely available" and that test kit quality be regulated.