July 11, 2012

HIV Testing Could Be Coming Soon to Pharmacy Near You

AtlantaComing soon to a pharmacy near you: HIV testing.

The national Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has launched a pilot project to train pharmacists and retail store clinic staff at 24 rural and urban sites to deliver confidential rapid HIV testing. The CDC says that is just the first step toward having pharmacies and retail clinics offer HIV testing and counseling as part of their routine services.

"We know that getting people tested, diagnosed, and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections," said Kevin Fenton, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. "By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and also reduce the stigma associated with HIV."

In a 2-year initiative, the CDC will train staff in community pharmacies and retail clinics in 12 urban areas and 12 rural areas with high HIV prevalence or significant unmet HIV testing needs. That training will focus on how to deliver rapid HIV testing and counseling, as well as how to refer those who are diagnosed with the virus to treatment facilities.

The CDC's testing recommendations, adopted in 2006, call for all adults and adolescents to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives. Establishing pharmacies as testing sites will bring the agency closer to that goal.

Currently, 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, according to CDC statistics, but almost 20% of them are unaware that they are infected. Early diagnosis can allow patients to receive treatment that can not only extend their lives but also can potentially reduce transmission to their sexual partners. The CDC points out that a third of those with HIV now receive their diagnosis so late that they develop full-blown AIDS within a year.

Community pharmacies and retail clinics can play a key role in assuring earlier diagnosis of HIV, according to CDC officials.

"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," said Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected."

Based on lessons learned from the pilot project, the CDC will develop a comprehensive toolkit that can be used to implement HIV testing in pharmacies and retail clinics.

Walgreens will be among the participants in the pilot project, offering free HIV testing in select pharmacies in Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as a Take Care Clinic in the Atlanta area.

Other pilot locations include pharmacies in Riverdale, MD; Oakland, CA; and an Indian Health Service location in Billings, MT. The CDC, which has budgeted $1.2 million for the project, will select 17 more sites by the end of summer.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect