It's about time, activists say of new HIV test
HIV/AIDS awareness advocate Scott Orton was "personally excited" when he learned rapid HIV testing was approved in Hawaii.
"The holdup has been the administrative rules change which has taken forever," said Orton, who frequently prodded state officials to expedite the process. "You need all the tools you can get to fight this disease."
The test was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 and Hawaii is one of the last states to authorize it.
Gov. Linda Lingle signed the new rules on June 27 and they went into effect Thursday.
"Before, the way we were testing, it took like two weeks to get test results. A lot of people would never show back up for test results," Orton said.
An OraQuick test can be used now to collect oral fluids with a swab and produce the result in 20 minutes.
But the new rules do much more than permit rapid HIV testing, said state Health Director Chiyome Fukino.
The changes allow smaller organizations to perform simple laboratory tests for HIV, influenza, diabetes and other conditions without licensing requirements, she said.
A certified site will be able to perform rapid HIV tests and other simple tests with trained personnel and laboratory oversight, and doctors, nurses or technicians aren't needed, Fukino said.
Susan Naka of the DOH Office of Health Care Assurance said the rules waive license requirements for 61 simple tests that can be done by community-based groups or perhaps employers who get a permit.
Life Foundation has been working with the health department to get the OraQuick test since it was approved by the FDA and plans to start using it in September, said Executive Director Paul Groesbeck.
The foundation provides the state's most comprehensive HIV prevention program and services to more than 600 clients. It bought a mobile van more than a year ago that can be used for rapid testing, and staff have been trained in the new technique, Groesbeck said.
Groesbeck said much of the foundation's focus in the next year "will be to identify people who need to know whether they're HIV positive or not."
About 25 percent of those with the condition have undiagnosed HIV, according to national statistics, he said. So hundreds of people who may be HIV positive aren't being treated to fight AIDS and may be exposing others through unprotected sex, he said.
Peter Whiticar, chief of the Health Department's STD/ AIDS Prevention Branch, also has been waiting for the rapid test as a tool to help prevent HIV.
The rapid test is aimed primarily at those of highest risk, giving a preliminary indication whether a person is negative or positive, he said. A blood test, "the gold standard" for accuracy, is recommended to follow up if the result is positive.
The blood test also can detect syphilis and hepatitis, Whiticar said, "so although the rapid test may offer a good alternative, the traditional (blood) test may be better for them."