The World Health Organization has recently issued guidelines on HIV self-testing. Discuss the significance of this move.
Though HIV testing has been made accessible and free of cost, many infected persons remain unaware of their status. Lack of an HIV diagnosis is a major obstacle to implementing the World Health Organization’s recommendation that everyone with HIV should be offered antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Threats that HIV poses:
- Nearly 40 per cent of people with HIV are unaware of their infection.
- There is a strong chance of transmitting the infection.
- Early diagnosis help in the treatment and enable the infected to live longer and healthier.
- The number of new HIV infections last year was 86,000; children below 15 years of age alone account for 12 per cent of this number.
- In 2015, the total number of people with HIV in India was estimated to be 2.1 million. This leaves about half a million who are unaware of their HIV status.
OraQuick HIV self-testing:
The WHO-approved OraQuick HIV self-testing is based on HIV antibodies present in oral and blood samples. The test can detect antibodies developed within three months of getting infected.
It is a screening test, and a positive result should be reconfirmed though a blood-based test. People with HIV still face stigma and discrimination. The OraQuick self-testing makes diagnosis easier and faster. It also ensures privacy and confidentiality which will encourage more people to get tested and might help break the transmission cycle.
How it can be done?
In HIV self-testing people can use oral fluid or blood- finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting.
Results are ready within 20 minutes or less.
Those with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics. WHO recommends they receive information and links to counselling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services.
This is particularly important for those people facing barriers to accessing existing services.
HIV testing coverage remains low among various population groups. But some women miss out too. Adolescent girls and young women in UNITAID-funded STAR project and many more countries are considering this innovative approach to reaching those who are being left behind.