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Gov't research team to suggest measures to improve mail-in HIV testing services

A research team at the health ministry is set to issue a proposal on mail-in HIV testing services run by private businesses to improve the accuracy of checkups and call for privacy protection for test takers as demand for such services is growing, it has been learned.

    The team led by Satoshi Kimura, chairman of the Japan Foundation for AIDS Prevention and president of Tokyo Healthcare University, will put forward recommendations over the improvement of the mail-in HIV testing businesses by the end of this fiscal year. Kimura's team takes part in the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's AIDS prevention research project.

    The move comes as the number of HIV tests taken at public institutions such as local healthcare centers has been dropping, while about 30 percent of newly infected people and new AIDS patients develop the syndrome without knowing that they had been infected with HIV.

    According to the research team, the number of mail-in HIV tests used jumped from about 3,600 in 2001 to 85,629 in 2015. Kimura says the demand for such services is growing as test takers do not have to see anyone face to face with the mail-in services and they can take the test anytime they want.

    At the same time, because the mail-in checkup is not a conclusive one to determine a person's HIV infection, those who received a positive result need to get tested again at a medical institution or other appropriate facilities. The level of accuracy and privacy information management are left to the test operators' own discretion, while the government is not involved in the operation of such businesses.

    In the proposal, the team will demand about 10 businesses make improvements in their testing services, including enhancing the credibility and accuracy of the tests, connecting the mail-in checkup with treatment and care in case of a positive result and protecting and ensuring proper management of privacy at the time of delivery of results when the tests are taken at the request of organizations believed to be in the sex industry.

    Meanwhile, the number of HIV tests taken at public institutions has been sharply dropping after reaching its peak of some 177,000 in 2008. It currently hovers around 130,000 -- a decrease of more than 20 percent. The testing provided by public organizations is free and can be taken anonymously, though those who wish to take the test need to appear physically at such institutions.

    Around 1,500 cases of HIV infection and AIDS are newly reported every year. Some 30 percent develop AIDS without having realized that they were infected with HIV.

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