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HIV Self-Test Kit Vending Machines Hit China

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Vending machines dispense HIV self-test kits for under $5 at three Chinese Universities.

It’s 2018, and vending machines now dispense everything from medical marijuana to fresh salads as an alternative to snacks. But nobody has gone as far as China in terms of innovative vending machine technology, with vending machines that dispense automobiles and now inexpensive HIV self-test kits.

This month, three universities in Shanghai, China have installed machines that dispense HIV self-test kits as a part of a pilot project to promote early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Shanghai Lixin University of Accounting and Finance, Tongji University, and Shanghai University are the first three schools to embrace the project.

The project is part of a program launched by the Chinese Association of STD and HIV/AIDS Prevention and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The price is one-tenth the price students would normally have to pay. Universities are selling the kits for 30 yuan ($4.78 USD), compared to the more common price of 298 yuan, ($47.49 USD) as listed on a Chinese ecommerce site Taobao.

While cheap HIV tests in other countries use a finger prick and test blood, the Chinese tests detect the virus in urine samples. Users collect their urine sample and deposit it back into the machine to get their results. The samples are collected from the machine twice a week, and then users can find their results online by logging into renaijiance.com.

Zhongdan Chen is a technical officer from the World Health Organization's office in China, and applauds the new ways students can get tested for HIV.

"Innovations in tools and service delivery approaches are urgently needed to make these services available, accessible, acceptable and of adequate quality, especially for high risk populations," Dr. Chen told ABC News Australia. According to Dr. Chen, about 758,000 people were reportedly living with HIV in China at the end of 2017. But a major portion, which some estimate to be around 30 percent, do not even know they have HIV.

Although the vending machine items first popped up in 2016 at China’s Southwest Petroleum University in Nanchong, Sichuan, more universities are now installing them.

The whole concept is to make it easier for young adults to test themselves for HIV, which is not an easy feat to do, with the stigma that looms over an HIV diagnosis. In China and also in many other parts of the world, young men and women have to be convinced or otherwise compelled to test themselves for HIV because of psychological barriers that get in the way. A vending machine test provides a way for 100 percent total anonymity and allows some people that would never take the test to have a discrete way to get tested. Homosexuality is much more of a taboo topic in China than it is in the West. That makes it even more difficult for gay Chinese citizens to get tested.

The vending machine HIV test method has also been used in the United Kingdom. A vending machine dispensing HIV self-testing kits was installed at a gay sauna club in Brighton, U.K. It dispenses cheap HIV self-testing kits that prick the user’s finger

In South Africa, which is dealing with HIV and AIDS on a much larger scale, vending machines are being used to store prescription HIV drugs, to work around the limitations imposed by the stigma as well.

HIV tests are becoming easier and cheaper to make, and the waiting period for HIV test results is getting shorter and shorter. In modern culture, instant convenience is becoming the norm. Just look at the way RedBox has replaced video rental stores and  McDonald’s ordering stations have replaced employees. When you eliminate the awkwardness of talking to another human being with something as sensitive as an HIV test, a vending machine makes a lot of sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Benjamin M. Adams

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Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.