Thursday, October 22, 2015

"More firms offer mail-in HIV tests, but many lack follow-up support"

Graph and text from The Japan News, October 15, 2015.

A record high of 77,588 HIV screening tests were conducted by private firms through the mail last year, but some companies still do not have an adequate support system for users who test positive amid the rising popularity of this inexpensive testing method.

In a survey by a group of researchers led by lecturer and microbiology expert Shingo Kato of Keio University’s School of Medicine, the number of mail-in HIV screening tests conducted by private companies was about 3,600 in 2001, the year the survey began. The figure has increased year by year.

The tests’ growing popularity stems from the advantage of users being able to ask companies for HIV screening tests without having to meet other people face-to-face. They are also free of the time constraints involved in having to visit a medical institution.

Users can purchase test kits for about ¥2,000 to ¥8,000 each. They are asked to draw a blood sample from a fingertip and mail it to an inspection firm, which will confirm the results by mail, e-mail or on their website. The process takes a few days to a week.

The mail-in screening test is only a preliminary examination, however — a blood sample that tests positive could actually be a “false positive,” meaning the individual does not actually have HIV. Users who receive a positive result must follow up by undergoing a more detailed examination at a medical institution.

According to Kato, however, many of the private businesses offering mail-in HIV screening services only inform users of the initial test results and leave follow-up actions entirely in the hands of individuals.

Public institutions, such as public health centers, offer HIV tests free of charge on an anonymous basis. Users can gain a good understanding of their results, since doctors will give a detailed explanation in face-to-face consultations.

However, many of these public institutions only offer screening tests on fixed days of the week or during certain times of the day.

The number of HIV screening tests at public institutions stood at about 177,000 in 2008, but in recent years the figure has decreased to the 130,000-140,000 range.

Private firms offering mail-in HIV screening services started emerging around the year 2000. There are now about 10 such companies across Japan, and their numbers are reportedly on the rise.

“There’s a possibility that users are not getting adequate explanations about their screening results,” Kato said, “since mail-in services don’t offer face-to-face consultations in which proper explanations can be given.”

He also pointed out the need to prepare and improve operational guidelines for the screening system so that proper medical treatment can be offered to those who are in need of it.

Based in Osaka city, ALBA Corporation Co. conducts about 20,000 mail-in HIV tests in a year — with 30 to 40 of the cases testing positive. The company said it offers follow-up services for users who test positive, including introductions to medical institutions that provide detailed confirmatory examinations as well as consultations to support them.

“The industry needs to establish criteria to protect the safety and credibility of HIV examinations,” said Kazushi Manda, the president of ALBA Corporation.


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