This week, the Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the-counter home HIV testing kit that produces results in about 30 minutes.
The FDA advised anyone using the test, called OraQuick, to follow up with a medical professional if the results do come out positive, as the test is not a sure-fire way of diagnosing someone with HIV.
The test will be available in supermarkets and pharmacies in October and will most likely be nestled conveniently by the pregnancy tests and condoms.
This new product isn't just a convenient and more discrete option for people to become educated on their status. The approval could change people's priorities regarding their sexual health.
With the flurry of opinions surrounding the possible mandate for health insurance to cover birth control, much of the attention is going toward the possibility of pregnancy as a consequence of sex instead of STDs. Perhaps announcing that you have an incurable disease is more taboo then expecting a child. So as a result, sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV, fall to the background while others fervently try to decide how the government should be involved in contraception and abortion.
While unplanned pregnancy is definitely a sexual health issue that cannot be ignored, there are options. There are medications for HIV designed to control the growth of the virus, but preventing someone from contracting the disease should be the main priority, especially for youth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people aged 13–29 accounted for 39% of all new HIV infections in 2009. Most people in their early twenties feel uncomfortable discussing their status, but who's to blame them?
There are some steps being taken in popular media to put HIV testing in the spotlight, such as MTV's It's Your Sex Life, an online resource that provides information about HIV testing, pregnancy information, and other areas to encourage young people to make their sexual health a priority.
But this new over-the-counter product could be the extra boost needed to bring urgent focus back to sexual health. Priced at $18, the test is a much more expensive investment than taking advantage of free testing at school functions or even testing at a local clinic. Also, purchasing the product isn't exactly indiscreet, but neither is buying condoms, birth control, or a pregnancy test.
If anything, the product can draw the spotlight back to sexual health, and not just to the methods to implement once someone has contracted an STD or finds themselves in an unplanned pregnancy. All too often, the cultural attitude of Americans focuses on fixing a problem instead of preventing it.
Every day, our televisions are littered with infomercials on a new weight loss product, each better than its predecessor with a promise to make you lose weight faster and be transformed into a supermodel overnight. Of course, the answer to a slim and healthy figure is not in a novelty weight loss product, it's in dieting, exercise, and other lifestyles people should practice to prevent health issues associated with obesity. Yet, we want our Big Mac and our six pack, too.
I doubt anyone truly wants to undergo lifelong medication because they weren't cautious in their sexual practices. Nothing is black and white -- there are other ways HIV is contracted other than unprotected sex. But the leading cause in Americans seems to a lack of knowledge regarding protection. If HIV testing kits are sitting conveniently next to condoms, it could be the spark people need to become more cautious in choosing their sexual partners and using protection.
On a lighter note, I'm interested in how the product will be marketed. Depending on their target audience, which will most likely be people in their mid to early twenties, there could be some very interesting advertisements in the fall.
--- Victoria Wright is a junior in journalism and electronic media. She can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.