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Wednesday 14 April 2010


Are HIV test kits coming to an outlet near you?

Posted in: HIV, Features
By GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 1st December 2009

Is buying a little kit from an adult shop and testing for HIV in the privacy of your own bathroom, or bedroom, a step too far?

sex-shop.jpg
Advances in affordable, accurate diagnosis, emerging drugs, prevention campaigns and increased awareness of the realities of HIV infection, plus its emergence as an unpleasant but more or less manageable condition rather than a quick death sentence have changed the perception of HIV infection in recent years.


When Head Start Testing started importing Singapore-manufactured rapid test kits for HIV and promoting them through Turkana Trading as a nice little product for adult shops to retail alongside the flavoured lubes and his and hers dildoes, controversy was ignited. Opinions were divided.

In its World AIDS Day press release, Mike Colwill of Head Start today announced that "HIV self testing will lead to higher detection rates." The NZ AIDS Foundation has long argued that increased testing of at-risk groups, primarily gay and bi men in NZ, is the best way to stop those who don't know they have the disease passing it on to others. Colwill agrees that "an HIV positive person, was most likely infected by an individual who knew they were potentially at risk but did not test through the current methods available to them. As a result, that individual continued to put others at risk. We believe we can dramatically reduce this number of individuals who decide not to test by offering them an easily accessible and private method of testing."

But for some, including the NZ AIDS Foundation, the spectre of people testing themselves, or each other, and the consequences of negative or positive results make home-testing impossible to embrace. Will the tests be carried out accurately? Will the need for a second test be understood. Will the lack of professional input leave people in dangerous situations?

"A NATURAL PROGRESSION"

While most gay-associated retailers spoken to by GayNZ.com expressed some reluctance to embrace the kits, Stuart Yeatman of Christchurch's Menfriends sauna and the associated altsexcafe adult shop is a gay venue owner and adult shop retailer who believes that the progress towards home-testing cannot be ignored.

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An EZ-Trust HIV test kit
When first offered the kits Yeatman says "I felt as if this was possibly an historical moment in the history of HIV/AIDS in New Zealand. For the first time, adult New Zealanders would be able to test themselves with full control of the results and have choices as to what to do with them." Yeatman sees prospective kit buyers as "those for whom these issues are important and perhaps those who live in isolated areas and small rural centres where easy access to anonymous sexual health checks are unavailable."


But he realises misuse and incorrect diagnosis could occur. "This is a problem associated with many products sold in New Zealand so I am reluctant to ban anything purely on the basis of misuse by a few idiots. I suspect that those who wish to enjoy the full services, support and advantages of existing agencies operating in sexual health in NZ will continue to do so."

Yeatman believes the influence of internet retailing cannot be ignored. "With the internet and technology progressing at a rapid rate, ordinary people now have access to many things previously unavailable to them. I guess I saw the availability of the kits as a natural progression and they will be among many self test kits that are either currently available or will be in the near future - all of which will in some way be vulnerable to misuse and incorrect diagnosis." Regardless of where people purchase the kits, Yeatmen feels that "most users will be aware of this and seek confirmation/validation of results from existing services."

He acknowledges that it would be preferable for the kits to be sold "only from pharmacies or through existing channels such as the NZAF and Sexual Health Centres operated by District Health Boards." But as a businessman Yeatman believes it is "important that we maintain our relevancy to the market and to reflect it as it is, not necessarily how we would like it to be. A head-in-the-sand approach to this by ourselves or anyone else is less than helpful. The kits are now available to the general public whether that is a good thing or not. The availability is something we should be embracing and responding to with our input.  Ignoring the kits or denigrating them will serve only to alienate purchasers further from existing agencies in this field."

With regard to sales of HIV rapid test kits in sex-on-site venues "I see little difference between them and adult shops," he says. "If someone wants to buy a kit they will do so from anywhere that is convenient to them. But I would be opposed to the sale of the kits for immediate use within sex-on-site premises of any type. This usage does not fall within the parameters of the intended use, the potential for abuse is unacceptably high and the safety of users and others is reason for genuine concern. Can this be policed? "If someone entering the venue or already within the venue asks to purchase a kit, we will sell it to them on their way out. It is the responsible thing to do," he says.

At the time of this interview Yeatman had not seen the revised supporting information which Head Start and Turkana are touting as the answer to doubts about the kits' useage. "I envisage supplying additional information, particularly with regard to pre- and post-test support and to the importance of correct usage of the test kit with each kit sold to cover any gaps in the information already supplied. I see this as an important element to the service I will provide in selling the kit."

NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

Other possible retailers are more equivocable. Jay Bennie, owner of Auckland's Lateshift, a cruise venue with only a minor retail/erotica sales component, says his reaction was initially very negative. "I showed a few sample kits to customers and the reactions were dubious to say the least," he says. "There are fears, which I fully agree with, that guys could use a one-off test in a private room to justify to a prospective partner that having unsafe sex will be ok. The kits do not give enough information for this kind of instant decision-making and in the heat of the moment some people may take an apparent negative result at immediate face value."

"There was also feedback that testing without pre- and post-test advice and support was a recipie for disaster and that somehow the very presence of the kits in a non-medical setting somehow diminished HIV as an infectious disease," says Bennie. He will not be stocking the kits, but is open to the possibility in the future, "if a lot of doubts and concerns are addressed... but those are very big 'ifs'."

YES... THEN NO

The venerable Out! gay-focussed adult supplier initally promoted the kits through its mail order operation but when contacted today advised that it was not selling them. Due to ill-health owner Tony Katavich was unavailable to respond in detail about his apparent change in stance.

'NOT APPROPRIATE'

The Erox nationwide network of straight- and gay-friendly adult shops, which also trades under brands such as the Exclusive Shop and Peaches and Cream, says it was contacted to retail the kits "but hadn't had time to consider them before we started to hear concerns being raised by respected people within the gay community."

Erox spokesperson John Frew feels that the implications of the results from HIV testing are "such that a support system, such as doctors or counseling should be readily available at the time anyone receives their HIV results... They should also be made aware that a negative result doesn't necessarily mean that they are HIV negative."

If the AIDS Foundation or Body Positive were to recommend that these self-tests could or should be sold in retail stores or online Frew is prepared reassess his current decision not to stock the kits, either at his retail outlets, some of which have private areas, or through their online operations. "For now, adult shops are not an appropriate environment to sell these kits," he says.

[Disclosure: Jay Bennie is also the Content Editor of GayNZ.com]

GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 1st December 2009

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