Instant HIV testing to get public airing next month
The current screening can take two weeks for results to return
A public hearing will be held May 14 on a long-awaited change to state administrative rules to allow rapid, on-the-spot HIV tests.
The Department of Health also is working on a rules revision to require doctors to report names of people who test positive for HIV.
Officials stress names would remain confidential, just as they have been for 23 years in reporting names of people with AIDS to the STD/AIDS Prevention Branch of the Department of Health.
HIV/AIDS advocates have been asking for more than a year why it is taking so long to approve the rapid HIV test. The Food and Drug Administration approved rapid HIV testing nearly five years ago, but state law requires a lengthy process to revise administrative rules.
Peter Whiticar, STD/AIDS Prevention Branch chief, said last year he was anxious to have the rapid test as a tool for HIV prevention.
The present test involves collecting a blood sample for laboratory analysis, taking one to two weeks to get results.
The Health Department wants to replace this with a 20-minute OraQuick test collecting oral fluids with a swab. Preliminary results are available on the spot, so counseling can be provided if necessary.
"The battle of surviving AIDS disease is knowing you have it so you can get appropriate medical care," said Paul Groesbeck, executive director of the Life Foundation, which assists people living with HIV and AIDS.
Also, he said, if people are aware they have an infectious disease, they can take steps to protect sexual partners and others from infection.
The benefit of the rapid test, he said, is the quick result. "The likelihood of returning in one or two weeks for test results goes down precipitously.
"If we can engage somebody long enough to take a test ... we can generally hold their attention long enough for results to come up."
Counseling and treatment referrals can be given to people who test positive, and even when results are negative, counseling is important, Groesbeck said.
Susan Naka, Health Department medical technologist, said the revised rules would waive requirements for a licensed clinical laboratory director and testing personnel. "Nonprofit organizations are very interested in doing this test for high-risk populations," she said.
Groesbeck said the Life Foundation plans to offer the tests in its office and at remote sites with its unmarked mobile lab: "I'm hoping by July 1, but I wouldn't bet any money on it."
The revision process still is under way on rules concerning reporting names of people who test positive for HIV to the STD/AIDS Prevention Branch. Hawaii, Vermont and Maryland are the only states that do not do this, Groesbeck said.
Without the federally required change, Hawaii risks losing about $2.1 million received annually in federal funds for its HIV counseling and testing program and other prevention activities.
News of the proposed change stirred fear among some clients that their names will be published, Groesbeck said, emphasizing this is "absolutely, categorically untrue."
The Life Foundation will continue to provide free and anonymous HIV testing, he said. If a person goes to a doctor for treatment, the doctor will report the name to the Health Department, but only a couple of people who analyze data will see it, he said.
Hawaii had 2,920 names of residents with AIDS from 1983 to the end of December, he said.
For more information, see www.lifefoundation.org or call the Life Foundation, 521-2437, or the Diamond Head Health Center, 733-9281.
Proposed changes to Health Department rules governing clinical laboratories and laboratory personnel will be aired at a public hearing at 1 p.m. May 14 in Room 302, Keoni Ana Building, 1177 Alakea St.
Proposed rules can be viewed at www.hawaii.gov/ health/about/rules/admrulechanges.html.