Pharmacists could play role in boosting rural HIV testing, study finds

Ind. study suggests pharmacists could fill consultation gap where testing, treatment infrastructure is lacking

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Pharmacists in Indiana want an active consultation role when customers purchase over-the-counter HIV tests, according to a new study.

Researchers at Indiana University, Butler University and the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, lead by center co-director Beth Meyerson, said that community pharmacists have a unique opportunity to consult with customers about HIV treatment when selling OTC HIV tests. Engaged and supportive pharmacists, the researchers said, could help increase the number of those who test for HIV and who are linked to treatment.

"Pharmacists understood the benefit of greater access to HIV testing, but they felt that their role as pharmacists was beyond that of OTC test seller," Meyerson said. "Instead, pharmacists saw themselves as health consultants and wished to build on the strong relationships that they have with customers during the point at which they sell the test."

Because rural communities often lack HIV testing and treatment infrastructure, and residents often feel stigmatized about testing, they have the most to gain from an engaged pharmacy environment.

"The pharmacy system could be an effective environment for HIV consultation because it would help to strengthen the current system of linkage to care," Meyerson said, noting that 20% of those living with HIV don't know it, and 24% of those who do are in treatment and have suppressed their viral loads. "This essentially means that people are not testing for HIV, that they are not properly linked to treatment when they do test positive and are not maintained in care."

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