In STI testing news over the weekend, the FDA halted over-the-counter sales of a testing service offered through Rite-Aid called Identigene and UK residents may soon be able to buy a cell-phone chip that, after spitting or peeing upon, can be plugged in and test for STIs.
First: how is the US lagging on this insanely cool nanotechnology? Consumers in the US only have access to urine-sample kits sent into a lab for processing. (I wrote about one such private service earlier this year.) The future of STI testing may be arriving soon, but not on this side of the pond.
Second: there is a big conceptual gap evidenced in these government agencies concerning STI testing.
Snip from the NYT Blog:
F.D.A. officials said they needed to first confirm the test was accurate.
There are “a lot of social implications if there is a false result, as you can imagine,’’ said Dr. Sally Hojvat, director of microbiology for the medical device division at the agency.
Another concern of the F.D.A. is whether people who test positive will have access to a doctor. Mr. Smith said Identigene has doctors on contract who will approve each test ordered and release the result. But he said the company could not ensure the doctors would talk to patients.
Snip from the Guardian:
Prof Noel Gill, head of HIV and STIs at the Health Protection Agency, the government agency that monitors infections and advises on containment strategies, said: “HPA surveillance has shown that the impact of STIs is greatest among young people and we hope that the application of new technology will help to reduce transmission of infection in this age group.
“This is an exciting research and development consortium which will develop new technologies that both improve and expand testing for STIs. As innovations become available, the HPA will co-ordinate large-scale evaluations within a network of collaborating STI clinics,” Gill added.
While there is no way to ensure with either technology that users will seek medical treatment, there is also no way to ensure a patient will take the antibiotics given to them. (Or follow any of a health professional’s advice. How many times has your dentist told you to floss?) The level of control exercised by the FDA on this matter seems mistrustful of consumers and favoring doctors. In contrast, the message from the UK agencies seem to simply be: “We’ll do whatever we can to get you tested.”
Personally, I don’t think the FDA should be restricting the public’s access to reliable STI tests. The most important thing is that the tests are accurate, accessible and results come with information on how to obtain treatment.