TESTING for HIV is becoming freely available to people in Mzansi.
Dr Amir Shroufi, Doctors Without Borders’ South African medical co-ordinator, says they welcome the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) released guidelines for HIV self-testing and partner notification this week. They fully encourage any efforts to implement self-testing more widely and make self-test kits freely available to the public.
“Self-testing empowers people to know their status. The huge potential offered by this new tool improves access to patient-centred testing should be grabbed with both hands,” said Shroufi.
At present, self-testing can act as a screening tool to minimise the time people need to spend at healthcare services.
It also can be done in the privacy of your own home, which allows people to refer themselves to healthcare services if they test HIV-positive.
The finalisation of South Africa’s next national strategic plan for HIV, TB, and sexually-transmitted infections for 2017 to 2022, should set high ambitions for the introduction and availability of self-tests over the next five years.
Doctors Without Borders’ experience has shown that different testing methods reach different groups of people, and new methods are likely to be particularly important in reaching those who remain untested. Long waiting times at healthcare facilities, or being asked to repeat counselling sessions at each test may push people from accessing conventional HIV testing services. Patients and communities should have the option to decide when to test for HIV and choose if they want to do it in privacy.
“Our research in Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape and Eshowe in KZN has shown that self-tests are an acceptable form of testing – including for the youth, who are at a higher risk of HIV infection. If used correctly, under supervision, it should return accurate results,” he said.
In KZN, outreach testing by Doctors Without Borders counsellors and community health workers in Eshowe and Mbongolwane made it possible to learn one’s HIV status while at school, work, home, or doing business in town, and increased the numbers of people tested.
Self-tests can take HIV testing a step closer to these communities, though further research is urgently needed to better understand strategies for self-test distribution, as well as how best to support those who test positive and the best course of treatment.