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French Pharmacies Begin Selling HIV/AIDS Home Testing Kits

The French government hopes that by making the test widely available, some 30,000 people currently living with undiagnosed HIV in the country will be able to access treatment.
Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News

Self-testing kits for HIV/AIDS went on sale in French pharmacies Tuesday, as part of a government plan to encourage early detection of the virus.

The test, which is manufactured by the French pharmaceuticals company AAZ-LMB, involves pricking one's finger to obtain a small blood sample from which it can detect the antibodies HIV1 and HIV2. The kit is available over the counter and delivers results in just 15 minutes. It generally retails for 25 to 28 euros ($28.20 to $31.50).

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France is the third country to approve self-testing for HIV/AIDS. TheUnited Statesintroduced an oral testing kit in 2012; self-test kits went on sale in Britain in April. Prior to the introduction of home testing, rapid diagnostic tests could only be performed by approved testing centers.

After pricking a washed and disinfected finger with the kit's single-use lancet, called an "auto-pricker," the blood sample is applied to the tip of the test, which resembles a needleless syringe. This tip is then dipped in a small pot of liquid solution.

A positive or negative result will appear on the test after 15 minutes. The test works much like a pregnancy test, with a first line appearing to show the test has worked. If a second line appears, the result is positive and needs to be confirmed with further testing in a laboratory. An accompanying leaflet indicates whom to contact in the event of a positive result. A negative test result can also be verified by further testing.

An over-the-counter HIV/AIDS self-testing kit purchased by VICE News for 28.90 euros, on the day it went on sale in France. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The kit includes everything that is needed for the test, including instructions, a lancet, a bandage, a disinfectant wipe, and a compress. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The test is not without its shortcomings. Results are only reliable three months after an infection.

"Users will undoubtedly use the test to try and determine whether or not their sexual relationships are safe," Dr. Christian Chidiac, who runs the department of infectious and tropical diseases at the Croix-Rousse hospital in Lyon, said. "This could be an issue if a person is in the early stages of the infection or during the seroconversion phase [when HIV antibodies develop]. In that case, you might end up with a false negative."

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Those concerned that they might have been exposed to the virus can seek emergency post-exposure prophylaxis — an antiretroviral drug treatment that is administered shortly after exposure to HIV — within 48 hours.

The "auto-pricker" is placed on the tip of the finger to draw a sample of blood. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The test is placed on the blood sample. (Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

The test's instructions advertise the number for France's 24-hour AIDS support hotline (Sida Info Service), which provides assistance to those seeking counseling, information on where to get tested, and how to access treatment.

"In our department, when we give out this diagnosis, there's a whole support mechanism in place," explained Chidiac. "All that will be missing [at a person's home], and it may be hard to stomach for some people,"

Nevertheless, the doctor welcomes the government's initiative to make home testing widely available to the public. Officials estimate that 30,000 people are currently living with undiagnosed HIV in France.

"Anything that can help with early detection is obviously hugely positive," he said. "HIV can be treated and managed very well if it is detected early."

Healthcare providers in France have warned that self-testing kits are not intended to substitute for traditional hospital screenings, but France's Health Ministry hopes that home testing will encourage those who traditionally shun clinic screenings to get tested.

The test is placed in a pot of liquid solution. The leaflet gives instructions on how to interpret the results, which can be read after 15 minutes. (Photo by Etienne Rouillon/VICE News)

According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 36.9 million people are currently living with HIV, including 25.8 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. Two million people contracted the virus in 2014 — an average of 5,600 infections a day.

In 2014, 1.2 million people died from AIDS.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg