Vending machines could test more people for STDs, a British study suggests

Vending machines could test more people for STDs, a British study suggests

In at least two British cities, some vending machines offer not only snacks and soft drinks, but a more exotic item: free self-test kits for sexually transmitted diseases.

The initiative aims to overcome some of the obstacles that prevent people from getting tested: the hassle of going to the doctor, the stigma of visiting sexual health clinics (particularly for LGBT people who don’t come out) and a lack of awareness about testing options. Such obstacles contribute to more than a million sexually transmitted diseases globally every day, according to the World Health Organization, which has called for improved access to testing and diagnostic services.

A study on the effectiveness of vending machines published this month found that more than half of their users said it was their first STD test. The vending machines, led by Brighton and Sussex Medical School and developed by the Martin Fisher Foundation, can be found in more than 10 locations in the Bristol and Brighton areas.

“What we find with all the machines is that people actually see these things and say, ‘You know what, that’s okay, I’ll use it,’ and then it starts to normalize the test,” said professor Jaime Vera. from HIV Medicine at Brighton and Sussex Medical School who led the project.

In the United States, more than 2.5 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia were reported in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a number that has remained relatively stable for years. Syphilis, especially congenital syphilis (transmitted during pregnancy), has increased significantly in recent years.

The CDC report says syphilis numbers in the United States are at their highest levels since the 1950s

Overall rates of sexually transmitted diseases rose by 24 percent in England in the same year, with gonorrhea cases up 50 percent on the previous year, according to an analysis of UK Health Security Agency data by the Terrence Higgins Trust. Cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea have risen sharply across the European Union, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in December.

Testing is an important part of reducing the spread of STIs because people need to know they have an STI so they can be treated and potentially avoid spreading it to others, according to Nicholas Midland, past president of the Australian HIV, Sexual Health and Virology Society. Hepatitis Medicine who now works at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

The British government recommends at least annual testing for STIs and HIV, describing regular screening as “essential to maintaining good sexual health”.

Many common sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, can be treated. HIV/AIDS, once often a fatal condition, can now be controlled with treatment, especially when detected early.

Medland believes vending machine tests should be made available as a supplement to existing services, but added that they “should not be used as a substitute for clinics, nor as a justification for cutting funding for clinics.”

Such an approach may be less likely to work on a large scale in the United States, which has a very different health care system, cautioned Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of clinical population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Environment from the UK’s publicly funded global system.

“It will depend on who pays for it,” he added. He added that a similar study he conducted on HIV testing kits in vending machines in Los Angeles, published in 2018, found that less than half of the people who returned a positive result continued treatment during the study’s time frame.

The UK study only measured uptake of testing, not treatment, but its authors concluded that vending machines were an effective way to reach infrequent or “never testers.”

More than 2,500 self-test kits were distributed over the course of a year from vending machines at locations including malls, libraries, community centres, doctors’ offices, college campuses and commercial sex venues. The survey was completed by 208 users.

The vending machines offered HIV self-test kits, which could be completed at home to get a result within 20 minutes, and tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis as well as HIV, which had to be placed in a pre-filled envelope and mailed to a clinic for results. .

Since placing the first machine in Brighton, the medical school has also worked with partners in Zambia, Japan and Jamaica, Vera said.

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