HTB

COVID-19 antibody testing for HIV positive people in the UK: HIV organisations reverse previous exclusion

Simon Collins, HIV i-Base

Until recently, HIV positive people in the UK applying online for a free antibody test for COVID-19 found they were excluded. [1]

The antibody test shows whether you might have had coronavirus in the past (rather than the PCR test for current infection).

After confirming in the online applications that you are okay taking a fingerprick blood sample and you don’t currently have symptoms, the website asks “Do you have a condition that weakens your immune system?” The examples include having chemotherapy, having had an organ transplant or spleen removed or having “HIV/AIDS”.

Answering yes to any of these questions generates a message: “Sorry, you cannot sign up for an antibody test right now”.  

As there is no reason for antibody testing for COVID-19 to be less effective for people living with HIV, several HIV organisations collectively challenged this, led by the British HIV Association (BHIVA) and including the UK-CAB and HIV i-Base.

The first government reply wrongly suggested that the antibody response “is likely to be hampered by their condition making it highly likely that any test result would be negative”.

The HIV organisations wrote back, asking for evidence supporting this policy (which doesn’t exist) and offering to provide scientific and clinical support for future policies. The letter also pointed out the discriminatory nature of the current exclusion – and that “HIV/AIDS” is not a helpful term.

This time the reply was more appropriate. As a result, both HIV and other immune-related conditions will be removed as exclusion criteria and apologising for using “HIV/AIDS”. On 11 November 2020, BHIVA published this acknowledgement online.

Following a joint letter from BHIVA, BASHH, the HIV CRG, HIV Scotland, National AIDS Trust, THT, UK-CAB & HIV i-Base, the Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) has agreed with our position that there is no clinical reason to exclude people living with HIV from the COVID-19 antibody testing offer. Moving forward, people living with HIV will be able to access an antibody test through Gov.uk. We welcome this immediate change, which will go beyond people living with HIV – to everyone living with an immunosuppressive condition. This rightly gives people the power to make their own decisions about testing. We thank the DHSC for their constructive engagement on this matter, and swift action. [2]

References

  1. Gov.uk website. Register for an antibody test kit to check if you’ve had coronavirus before. (Accessed 11 November 2020).
    https://www.gov.uk/register-coronavirus-antibody-test
  2. BHIVA press statement. SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing to be offered to people living with HIV. (11 November 2020).
    https://www.bhiva.org/SARS-CoV-2-antibody-testing-to-be-offered-to-people-living-with-HIV

 

Links to other websites are current at date of posting but not maintained.