An estimated one in five people with HIV do not know they have it, but a pharmacy in south Augusta is stepping up to help change that.
Barney’s Pharmacy is one of 24 community pharmacies nationwide that will be part of a pilot program to expand rapid HIV testing and public education through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Using a community pharmacy to offer testing and then counseling to care will help attract those who need to be screened but who wouldn’t consider approaching an infectious-disease clinic, said Ashlee Riggs, a pharmacy resident at Barney’s from the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. Offering it at a community pharmacy helps to reduce the stigma surrounding the test, she said.
“We have to reduce the stigma and make this a normal thing,” Riggs said. “Otherwise, people aren’t going to ever want to get tested. And that’s where community pharmacies come in because we already have a great relationship with patients about many different disease states. So why should HIV/AIDS be any different?”
The test is available over the counter, but the testing that Barney’s will do is free and has some other advantages.
“If they do (test positive) we can be there to offer support and counseling and linkage to care, which is something they wouldn’t get if they were sitting in their living room alone,” Riggs said.
The program will be an additional service but also an outreach, said Ben Culpepper, a pharmacy resident at Barney’s from the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy.
“Yes, we do want the regular patients that are coming through because the CDC wants everyone to know their status,” he said. “But we’re also wanting to reach out to the community and let the community know that Barney’s pharmacy is a place that they can come to that is safe, confidential, free of judgment and potentially get the screening if they need it.”
Part of the mission will be educating the public that HIV is a chronic disease because of the availability of highly effective medications, said Jake Galdo, a clinical pharmacy educator. Compliance with taking medications is critical, and that is another role for the pharmacist, Riggs said. She said they hope to help patients’ physicians in managing care.
“We can be there with them through the whole process,” she said.
Compliance is much easier than it was in earlier years, Culpepper said.
“There are several regimens that are just one pill once a day,” he said.
The pharmacists at Barney’s have already been trained to administer the tests and are now waiting for supplies to begin, Galdo said. The program will likely begin this month but really get going in December, he said.