Emory set to launch national HIV self-testing program

The initiative will begin in early 2023, with tests mailed in discreet packages to all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Credit: TakeMeHome.org

Credit: TakeMeHome.org

Emory will lead an effort to deliver 1 million rapid HIV self-tests to communities heavily affected by HIV. The goal of the project is to increase awareness and diagnoses of HIV infections in the United States.

The Emory led program ―Together TakeMeHome (TTMH)—is being funded by a $8.3 million Centers for Disease Control and Prevention award in its first year. The total amount of the CDC award is up to $41.5 million over five years.

“Testing is a critical entry point for HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for people most affected by HIV,” Dr. Travis Sanchez, professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and executive director for the program, said in a press release. “Together TakeMeHome leverages proven HIV prevention strategies by allowing people to get tests delivered directly to their doorsteps and gives people who otherwise might not have tested an opportunity to know their status.”

According to Emory, HIV testing is an effective part of HIV prevention and is important to receiving care because many people do not know their HIV status. Knowing about one’s status allows individuals to access preventative care and begin treatment, if necessary. TTMH aims to overcome barriers to testing such as stigma, privacy concerns, cost, and lack of access to HIV clinics through offering free HIV self-tests via mail.

“I think that it’s great. It definitely coincides with the first pillar of ending the HIV epidemic plan, making sure that people know their status,” Larry Scott-Walker, executive director of THRIVE SS, an organization founded in 2015 to support Black gay and bisexual men living with HIV in the Atlanta metro area, said.

TTMH will start mailing tests through orders processed by Amazon to people who sign up on its website in early 2023. The program will be evaluated through data collected from order information, surveys, and interviews, to see who uses the tests, how many new diagnoses were made and how many people began HIV treatment or PrEP, the drug used to prevent HIV.

“For states that have a much greater impact from HIV infections, the biggest thing is making sure that we are putting resources out in the community that can reach everyone,” Sanchez said. “In states that are heavily impacted, like Georgia, there are a good number of traditional services, but those services may not reach people in all communities. Having a mail HIV testing option increases the access to that service.

The program is an expansion of a 2020-2021 pilot program conducted with help from the CDC. The study connected members of heavily impacted populations to HIV testing, with 36% of participants receiving their first HIV test.

Those involved with the project will work with the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign to market tests to communities disproportionately affected by HIV, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and Black or African American cisgender women, according to Emory.

“HIV self-testing is a key innovation that supports the national goal to diagnose all people with HIV as early as possible,” said Dr. Robyn Neblett Fanfair, acting director of CDC’s division of HIV prevention, in a press release. “Evidence demonstrates high demand for HIV-self tests—particularly among people who have never previously tested for HIV and populations that are not equitably reached by HIV testing, effective treatment and prevention tools.”

Leaders say that the success of the project will depend on collaboration.

“The more reach that we get into that group with the bigger rollout the easier it will be to achieve our goals and make sure that we’re improving access,” Sanchez said.

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