A NEW WORLD Health Organsation (WHO) report on HIV has revealed that at least 18 million people living with HIV are currently not accessing treatment as they are unaware of their status.
According to WHO’s Progress Report, although a similar number of HIV positive people are on antiretroviral therapy (ARTs), about 40% of all people with HIV (over 14 million) remain unaware of their status.
The report stated that the lack of an HIV diagnosis is a major obstacle to implementing the organisation’s recommendation that everyone with HIV should be offered ART.
This situation, WHO disclosed, put lots of people at higher risk of HIV infection who may often find it difficult to access existing testing services.
WHO’s Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, said millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment which can also prevent HIV transmission to others.
The organisation has, therefore, released new guidelines on HIV self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV diagnosis as the world marked World AIDS Day last Friday, December 2.
Dr Chan said HIV self-testing should open the door for many people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.
“HIV self-testing means 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,” she stated.
From 2005 to 2015, the proportion of people with HIV learning of their status increased from 12% to 60% globally.
This increase in HIV testing uptake worldwide has led to more than 80% of all people diagnosed with HIV receiving ART.
Up to 70% of partners of people with HIV are also HIV-positive. Many of those partners are not currently getting tested. The new WHO guidelines recommend ways to help HIV- positive people notify their partners about their status, and also encourage them to get tested.
“By offering HIV self-testing, we can empower people to find out their own HIV status and also to notify their partners and encourage them to get tested as well,” Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV, said.
“This should lead to more people knowing their status and being able to act upon it. Self-testing will be particularly relevant for those people who may find it difficult to access testing in clinical settings and might prefer self-testing as their method of choice,” he stated.
Self-testing has been shown to nearly double the frequency of HIV testing among men who have sex with men, and recent studies in Kenya found that male partners of pregnant women had twice the uptake of HIV testing when offered self-testing compared with standard testing.
Twenty-three countries currently have national policies that support HIV self-testing.