Zimbabwe: Self-Testing – Brave New Approach to HIV Fight

Total elimination of HIV is a herculean task for the government and its development partners as it calls for innovative approaches in HIV prevention, treatment and care. As the world is working towards the finalisation of the post-2015 development agenda, partners in HIV and AIDS programming have agreed to an era that will see nothing less than ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 with the year 2020 and its “90-90-90” strategic targets being the litmus test.

According to the 2020 target, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression, which means having very low levels of HIV in the body, even though the virus is still there. Having gone for more than three decades since the first HIV case was discovered, globally there are, however ,an estimated 19 million people who do not know their HIV status.

With these statistics, it has been universally agreed that the 2020 and 2030 targets are pinned around knowledge of an individuals’ HIV status, hence the need to introduce HIV self-test kits as an alternative for HIV testing.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), HIV self-testing enables individuals to test themselves for HIV in private and also provides an opportunity for people to test themselves discreetly and conveniently. Self-testing can help reach those who are either not able to access or unlikely to use current HIV testing services due to privacy issues or lack of convenience.

Statistics obtained from the Ministry of Health and Child Care point out that an average of 146 265 people are tested for HIV every month. Of those tested, an average of 95 percent come back for their HIV test result in Zimbabwe, based on the 2014 HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) data.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) 2010 — 2011 points out that 36 percent of men and 57 percent women had never been tested for HIV. However, the percentage of people who reported to have been tested and knew their status in 2014 is around 66 percent. Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director of the AIDS and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), said the ministry was always looking at possible solutions that respond to the needs of communities.

“As a ministry, we continue to introduce more initiatives that respond to the needs of our communities so that they can access HIV testing and counselling (HTC). HIV self-testing has not yet been introduced (nationally) in Zimbabwe. We are currently running it as a pilot in a few districts and the result of that will inform the strategic direction regarding self-testing in Zimbabwe. This will inform issues of acceptability and feasibility and what more information is needed before one opts for self-testing,” he said.

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