The day is coming when you'll have to go no farther than your nearest shopping mall to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DC) is launching a pilot project to train pharmacists and retail store clinic staff at 24 rural and urban sites to deliver confidential rapid HIV testing.Â
The goal of the initiative is to extend HIV testing and counseling into the standard everyday services offered by pharmacies and retail clinics.Â
CDC will use the results of the pilot effort to develop a model for implementation of HIV testing in these settings across the United States. The project is part of CDC's efforts to support its 2006 testing recommendations, which call for all adults and adolescents to be tested for HIV at least once in their lives.Â
"We know that getting people tested, diagnosed and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections," said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of 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.Â
Improving the oddsÂ
CDC estimates that 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, yet nearly 1 in 5 remains unaware of the infection. In addition, one-third of those with HIV are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection that they develop AIDS within one year, missing years of opportunities to receive life-extending medical care and treatment, and potentially reduce transmission to partners.Â
Community pharmacies and retail clinics, with their convenience and easy accessibility, could play a critical role in ensuring more Americans have access to an HIV test. Data suggest that more that millions Americans enter pharmacies every week, and an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic.Â
Compared with health care settings and conventional HIV testing sites, these locations may provide an environment that is more accessible to those who may be anxious about seeking an HIV test.Â
Making it routineÂ
"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of 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."Â
Throughout the two-year initiative, CDC will provide training for 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.Â
Training will focus on how to deliver rapid HIV testing and counseling and link those who are diagnosed with the virus to care and treatment.Â
Based on lessons learned, CDC will develop a comprehensive toolkit that pharmacists and retail clinic staff from around the country can use to implement HIV testing.