Self-testing key in fight against Aids

Thursday August 3 2017

Poor HIV testing coverage among vulnerable

Poor HIV testing coverage among vulnerable populations remains a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI
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Self testing for HIV, an approach being given a trial run in countries in Southern Africa, can reach more people than traditional diagnostics methods, according to findings of the first phase of the study.

Unitaid, which is funding the HIV Self-Testing Africa (Star) Initiative, said that the new approach will enable individuals to learn their status when and where they choose, and seek the treatment they need.

The privacy has proven a critical tool for increasing prevention and treatment services, researchers said.

It could also help meet the United Nation’s ambitious 90-90-90 treatment targets, which call for 90 per cent of people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90 per cent of those diagnosed to be on treatment and 90 per cent of those on treatment to be virally suppressed by 2020.

The Star project was initially conducted in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe between 2015 and 2017.

OraQuick HIV self-test kits were used for the study. Using an oral swab, an individual can get a result in as little as 20 minutes.

At the 9th International Aids Society Conference on HIV Science in Paris from July 23 – 26, the Star consortium announced the expansion of the project to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, making it the largest effort to date to create a thriving market for HIV self-testing in Africa.

Poor testing coverage among men, young people and other vulnerable populations remains a challenge for the HIV response on the continent.

“Preliminary results indicate that self-tests is helping to close knowledge-of-status gaps for groups that have traditionally been hard to reach with other HIV testing services, particularly young people and men,” said Star initiative director Karin Hatzold.

Based on findings from the Star research conducted in other countries, the World Health Organisation released updated guidelines on HIV self-testing and partner notification in December last year.

“The guidelines strongly recommend that HIV self testing be offered as an additional approach to conventional testing services,” said WHO technical officer Cheryl Johnson.
The second phase of the initiative aims to demonstrate increased efficiency and potential cost savings of HIV self-testing.