New HIV self-testing kit aims to increase diagnosis rates
posted by Jess Wynn
on 21st July 2017

A new study from UCL, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England seeks to discover whether providing free HIV self-tests to men, transgender men and transgender women who have sex with men could reduce the number of people who have undiagnosed HIV.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), SELPHI is an internet-based study where respondents will be asked to register their details through an online survey that is being promoted through apps such a Grindr and Hornet, social media sites and the gay press. Researchers hope the results of the study will help the NHS decide whether it should provide free HIV self-testing kits.

SELPHI is a randomised trial, which will offer some of those who register a free HIV self-testing kit. Selected participants can then test a sample of their blood or saliva and provide the result via a survey without having to attend a clinic or other healthcare setting

Currently most HIV tests are conducted in genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics. It is thought that some men may be more likely to test, and to do so more often using the HIV self-testing kits - because this method is more private, quick and convenient than visiting a clinic. The tests are quite straightforward – the individual just has to take a sample of blood and process it themselves.

Professor Sheena McCormack (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL) who is jointly leading the study with Dr Alison Rodger (UCL Institute for Global Health) said, “The number of new HIV diagnoses in gay and bisexual men is still depressingly high in the UK. Over half of men who have sex with men test less frequently than recommended and around a quarter have not done so at all. It is currently thought that around 13% of those of with HIV are unaware of their status.”

“We are aware that many men may not get tested as they do not have the time to visit a clinic, feel embarrassed about visiting one or speaking to a doctor. Therefore self-testing kits could make them more likely to find out their status, giving them the opportunity to seek treatment for HIV earlier than they otherwise would have done.”

The researchers think that the availability of free kits to those who are selected to take part in the trial will appeal to people in areas of England and Wales where rates of testing are currently quite low.

Co-researcher Michelle Gabriel (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL) explained, “The self-testing kits may particularly encourage those in rural areas to get tested. If you are in a large urban area like London it is relatively easy to access a clinic and get tested, however in somewhere more remote it might involve two bus journeys, and there also may be concern about someone you know finding out that you are visiting the clinic. HIV Self-testing kits are already available for around £30 each but it is hoped that being able to offer them free will encourage greater numbers to use them. ”.

Dr Rodger who is leading the grant added, “Although previous studies have shown that self‑testing is acceptable and increases uptake of testing amongst gay men, SELPHI is the first one designed to see if there is an impact on HIV diagnoses”.

The SELPHI trial is open to recruitment now; individuals who are interested in taking part can join the study by visiting the SELPHI Website or by following links in adverts apps or on Facebook.

Direct Link to Registration Page:

The study aims to recruit 10,000 men, transgender men and transgender women. To join, participants must be 16 or over, must have had anal sex with a man in the past, must not have already been diagnosed as HIV positive, must be living currently in England or Wales. Those eligible for the study will be allocated to the offer of a free HIV self-test versus no offer of a free HIV self-test by chance. For more information about the SELPHI study go to

The study is a collaboration between researchers at the UCL Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit and UCL Research Department of Infection & Population Health, Sigma Research at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England. It has also has input from HIV iBase and a community advisory group.

The study was funded by the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) programme.


UCL was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 38,000 students from 150 countries and over 12,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with more than 4,000 students and 1,000 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, is among the world's leading schools in public and global health, and was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2016. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Established by the Department of Health, the NIHR:

  • funds high quality research to improve health
  • trains and supports health researchers
  • provides world-class research facilities
  • works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • involves patients and the public at every step

For further information, visit the NIHR website

Public Health England has been involved in increasing access to HIV testing through a variety of mechanisms which has major benefits both clinically and for public health. We see this as an important study to strengthen the evidence base and identify best methods for promoting HIV testing.