June 26 (Reuters) - U.S. drugstore chain Walgreen Co will offer free, rapid HIV tests in a small number of its pharmacies as part of a two-year pilot program to make testing for the disease more convenient and accessible to all Americans.
The pilot program is being conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will use the information gleaned from the testing to develop a nationwide model for pharmacists and nurse practitioners to detect the virus that causes AIDS.
Walgreen said on Tuesday it will initially offer the tests in some of its pharmacies in Washington, D.C., and Chicago and in a clinic in Lithonia, Georgia. In cases where a test shows a positive result, Walgreen will refer the patient to a local healthcare provider for further confirmation and care.
"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected."
CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans have HIV, but nearly 20 percent of them don't know they are infected. One of the primary challenges in HIV diagnosis is that people can live with the infection for years without developing symptoms.
Late diagnosis, and development of the disease to full-blown AIDS, often means that many have already transmitted the disease to partners and have missed a critical window for receiving life-extending medical care.