Shanghai residents who want to test their HIV status in relative anonymity can soon buy saliva kits at pharmacies around the city that will give a result within 15 minutes.
The city has recorded an annual growth rate in new HIV infections of around 10 percent in the years leading up to 2015, according to a media report that cites municipal health authorities, but doesn’t elaborate. Last year, Shanghai saw a 0.8 percent decrease in new cases, with 1,975 new infections recorded up to late November.
The availability of the saliva-based testing kits in one pharmacy in downtown Jing’an District on Friday marked the official launch of a citywide government campaign to ensure easier access to HIV tests.
Previously, people could test their HIV status at the city’s disease control centers, which offer free saliva and blood tests. But a positive result means that one’s HIV status will be registered with the government, which some wish to avoid, fearing discrimination or information leaks.
There are also nongovernmental organizations that provide free testing, such as the Shanghai Youth AIDS Health Promotion Center. Its three offices in Shanghai together conduct 100 saliva tests every month on average. But according to director Bu Jiaqing, this does not nearly meet the real need.
“Many people remain unaware of where to go for a quick test,” Bu told Sixth Tone. “The fact that a brick-and-mortar store sells saliva testing kits is in itself an advertisement.”
A day after the kit became available in a Ley’s pharmacy in Jing’an District, one consumer had purchased 10 boxes early on Saturday morning, Hu Yan, a sales person at Ley’s, told Sixth Tone. Each box costs 48.60 yuan ($7.30), whereas they are also available online for around 20 yuan.
“We don’t ask people to leave their name, address, or contact details, which makes us different from online businesses,” said Hu. “Also, importantly, some people come to the store for immediate answers — they’re anxious and can’t wait for the products to be delivered.”
Although the saliva tests give results quickly, there is the possibility of a false positive. The city’s disease control authority emphasizes that consumers who get a positive result from a saliva test should go for a blood test to confirm their diagnosis.
Bu, of the Shanghai Youth AIDS Health Promotion Center, said that people who were potentially exposed to the risk of HIV infection will still be concerned about protecting their privacy in a public venue like a pharmacy. “Just like when the early pregnancy test kit first became available in drugstores, people felt ashamed to ask for it,” he said. “It takes time to change buyers’ and the public’s conservative attitudes toward HIV saliva testing kits.”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Canopy/VCG)