HIV tests sent by mail for paid analysis hit a record high in 2011, with the number roughly half that of tests conducted free of charge at designated facilities nationwide, a research team of the health ministry said Monday.
The figure shows wide use of the easy-to-use method, but the team is concerned the mail service users, who are not required to meet doctors and nurses, do not have access to sufficient information and followup care.
HIV tests handled by mail in 2011 numbered 65,640, half the approximately 130,000 tests taken at public health care centers and about an 18-fold increase from 2001, when the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started collecting the oldest comparable data.
The cost of the mail service ranges from over ¥2,000 to nearly ¥8,000, and the number of companies offering it increased to nine in 2011 from six in 2005, according to the survey.
A person can take a blood sample at home by using a kit ordered online and send it in by mail. Those who test HIV positive through such screening need to go to a medical institution for confirmation.
Over the past five years, the number of people who tested HIV positive via the mailed-in tests has stayed at around 200 per year.
In most cases, the companies offering the tests provide the results within two weeks, and they recommend taking further confirmation tests at designated medical institutions. Some companies also provide email and telephone consultations.
There have also been cases in which the companies did not provide pertinent information, including that the virus is increasingly becoming controllable thanks to advances in science, the research group said.
Koji Sudo, a member of the research team from Keio University, said the test by mail “has huge benefits for early detection,” but added it is important to provide followup to ensure those who turn up positive are advised on the proper actions to take.