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CDC to bring HIV testing to pharmacies, retail clinics

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a pilot project to train pharmacists and retail store clinic staff at 24 rural and urban sites to deliver confidential and rapid HIV testing.

The goal of the initiative is to extend HIV testing and counseling into the standard, everyday services offered by pharmacies and retail clinics. The CDC will use the results of the pilot effort to develop a model for implementation of HIV testing in these settings across the country.

The project is part of the CDCís efforts to support its 2006 testing recommendations, which call for all adults and adolescents to be tested for HIV at least once as part of routine healthcare. It coincides with this yearís National HIV Testing Day, which has taken place every June 27 since 1995.

"We know that getting people tested, diagnosed and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections," Kevin Fenton, MD, director of the CDCís National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in a news release. "By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and also reduce the stigma associated with HIV."

The CDC estimates that 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, yet nearly one in five remains unaware of the infection. In addition, a third of those with HIV are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection that they develop AIDS within a year, missing ample time in which they could have received life-extending medical care and treatment, and potentially reduced transmission to partners.

Community pharmacies and retail clinics, with their convenience and easy accessibility, can play a critical role in ensuring more Americans have access to an HIV test, the CDC said. Millions of Americans enter pharmacies every week, according to estimates, and an estimated 30% of the U.S. population lives within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic. Compared to healthcare settings and conventional HIV testing sites, these locations may provide a more accessible environment for people who may be anxious about seeking an HIV test.

"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," said Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDCís Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected."

Throughout the two-year initiative, the CDC will provide training for staff in community pharmacies and retail clinics in 12 urban areas and 12 rural areas with high HIV prevalence or significant, unmet HIV testing needs. Training will focus on how to deliver rapid HIV testing and counseling and link those who are diagnosed with the virus to care and treatment.

The CDC will use the pilot project to develop a comprehensive toolkit for pharmacists and retail clinic staff around the country to use in implementing HIV testing.

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