Brazil, a country considered exemplary for its policy of combating the spread of AIDS, has started to sell HIV tests for the first time in pharmacies.
The first tests arrived a week ago on the shelves of pharmacies in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Then it’s the turn this week of the States of Sao Paulo and Espirito Santo, also in the Southeast, before the whole country by the end of the month.
“Self-test”, approved by the Anvisa health authorities, allows the user to know if he is carrying the AIDS virus or not, in this huge Latin American country of 200 million inhabitants where the population is very reluctant to be diagnosed.
In Brazil, for example, almost 20% of people living with HIV do not know their HIV status, or some 150,000 people, out of a total of around 800,000 people infected.
Brazil therefore becomes the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to sell this do-it-yourself test in pharmacies. A measure already taken by several developed countries, in particular the United States, the United Kingdom or France.
Brazil is a pioneer in the fight against AIDS and offers free treatment to anyone who is diagnosed with HIV.
Developed by the Brazilian company OrangeLife, the “Action” test works by collecting a drop of blood which, mixed with a reactive product, reveals the presence of antibodies signaling exposure to the HIV virus.
The result is known in 20 minutes, for a product sold between 60 and 70 reais – between 16 and 19 euros, a high price in Brazil. One bar and the person is negative, two bars the person is positive.
For its designers, the test is 99.9% reliable, a rate higher than that carried out using saliva sold in the United States.
According to OrangeLife director, Italian Marco Colovatti, the test is manufactured in a factory in Rio with a capacity of 100,000 units per month.
– Diagnosed very late –
For all the professionals interviewed by AFP – pharmacists, doctors and manufacturers – this test represents an important advance in terms of the fight against HIV. The earlier the virus is detected, the better it treats itself.
The problem is that many Brazilians do not take the test in the hospital, out of modesty or fear of being discriminated against.
“The advantage of the product is that people will be able to test themselves in an environment where they will not have to share this with anyone”, explains to AFP Dr Valdiléa Veloso, from the clinical research laboratory of AIDS , within the Fiocruz research institute.
In Brazil, the epidemic mainly affects homosexuals, transsexuals, sex workers and drug users “and these populations often have bad experiences with the health services”, adds the doctor. So they “avoid going to the health services, so they are diagnosed very late”.
The first indications on the reception of the Brazilians are encouraging. “The first day, I had three test boxes available, they were all sold,” said AFP Ricardo Valdetaro, pharmacist at Copacabana.
“The next day I ordered six, all sold the same day. So the next day I ordered 12. I understood that this product would work very well. A client explained to me that he was buying tests to have them done to sex workers. “
However, the diagnosis of HIV infection can be difficult to accept.
If a person “does not want to take the test alone at home, they can do it here, in a room of the pharmacy reserved for receiving patients”, says the pharmacist of Copacabana.
On the product box, a toll-free number provides psychological assistance as well as information on treatments.
“In Curitiba (South-East) tests were sent to volunteers, thousands of people participated and asked for a test to be done at home,” said Dr Veloso. “So we can clearly see that we shouldn’t be afraid that people will be desperate to be alone when the result comes.”