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Hualien health official receives award for HIV prevention

2017/11/17 22:08:24

Chang Kai-hsiang (張凱翔)

Taipei, Nov. 17 (CNA) A Hualien County Health Bureau official received an excellence award for disease prevention in Taipei Friday for making available human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) home testing kits through convenience store pickup services.

Chang Kai-hsiang (張凱翔), a specialist in the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), received the award at a ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel in Taipei for his initiative that has made the kits more accessible not only in Hualien but around Taiwan.

In September 2016, Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control launched a simple HIV saliva test program and distributed 4,812 test kits during a three-month trial period.

HIV oral saliva testing kit/file photo (photo courtesy of Taichung City Government)

In a survey of those who took part in the program, 1 percent tested positive for the virus and 40 percent said it was the first time they were being tested for HIV, indicating that people appreciated the program's privacy and convenience.

Chang found that the HIV home testing kit was highly accurate but getting it into people's hands was challenging.

People who wanted to get a kit from the county health bureau had to pick it up in person, and while some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made the kits available at some of their centers and vending machines, that was also inconvenient because of Hualien's sizable land area, Chang said.

Other barriers, according to Chang, were that people worried about privacy if they had to pick up the kit personally and they were limited by the operating hours of stores that sold the kits.

The many constraints led him to conclude that ordering the product online and having people pick it up at a nearby convenience store was the easiest and most discreet way to distribute the kits.

Chang Kai-hsiang (張凱翔), a specialist in the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

During the first trial Chang conducted, 40 to 50 people ordered the kit within an hour of it being advertised online for pickup at a convenience store of the customer's choice.

The kits were all sent out in a relatively short time and many people hoped the program could be continued, Chang said.

The success of Chang's trial led the CDC to adopt it around the country in April.

CDC deputy director-general Philip Lo (羅一鈞) said the program has received good feedback and seen excellent results since then.

CDC deputy director-general Philip Lo (羅一鈞)/CNA file photo

Lo said 40 percent of the total testing kits sold since the start of the program, or about 7,000 kits, have been ordered to be picked up at convenience stores, compared with about 30 percent picked up by people at health bureaus and the rest bought through vending machines.

HIV is a disease which over time depletes the human immune system allowing life-threatening opportunistic infections to thrive and up to the end of October there are around 36,687 people living with HIV in Taiwan, according to CDC data.

(By Chen Wei-ting and William Yen)