Ahead of AIDS Awareness Day on December 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines on HIV self-testing to help with the diagnosis of the deadly disease.
The initiative by the UN health organisation aims to help millions know about their HIV status and get the right treatment. According to the latest WHO progress report, “lack of an HIV diagnosis is a major obstacle to implementing the Organization’s recommendation that everyone with HIV should be offered antiretroviral therapy (ART).”
“Millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment, which can also prevent HIV transmission to others,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in the release.
Sadly, the report shows that 40 per cent of all people affected with the HIV-virus (over 14 million) remain unaware of their status. “Many of these are people at higher risk of HIV infection who often find it difficult to access existing testing services,” the report warns.
With the easy and pertinent self-testing kit, people around the world can know about their status within “20 minutes”. The WHO report says, “HIV self-testing means people can use oral fluid or blood- finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting.” Dr Chan also added that the self-testing should open the door for many more people to know about their HIV status and eventually lead the patients to find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.
The organisation also urged that those with positive results should immediately seek help and confirm reports from health clinics. “WHO recommends they receive information and links to counselling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services,” it added.
The UN has already ensured that basic care facilities and counselling centres help patients not fight the disease but also the social stigma attached to it.
The latest data by the WHO shows that there are 37 million people living with the disease and only 18.2 million people are receiving antiretroviral treatment worldwide. Till the end of 2015, 1.1 million people have lost their lives due to AIDS related causes.
“HIV self-testing is a way to reach more people with undiagnosed HIV and represents a step forward to empower individuals, diagnose people earlier before they become sick, bring services closer to where people live, and create demand for HIV testing. This is particularly important for those people facing barriers to accessing existing services,” the release highlights.
Noticeably, the report mentioned that men with HIV are less likely to be diagnosed and go through the antiretroviral treatment and are more likely to die of HIV-related causes than women. It added that men account for only 30 per cent of the people tested for the virus. It also draws attention to that adolescent girls and young women in eastern and southern Africa “experience infection rates up to eight times higher than among their male peers”.
The report also focuses on how testing numbers are low among people involved in same-sex relationships, transgender, sex workers, prisoners, drug addicts – “who together comprise approximately 44 per cent of the 1.9 million new adult HIV infections that occur each year”.
The self-testing kits are provided by WHO for free and it also supports other measures that would help people get other such kits at low prices. As of now “23 countries have national policies that support HIV self-testing. Many others are developing policies, but wide-scale implementation of HIV self-testing remains limited.”
The alarming report also suggested that 70 per cent people whose partners are affected by the virus, they also test positive to the test but many of those do not get tested to ascertain their status.
Hoping that the measure would have a positive impact and help those affected, the organisation also urged all nations to join hand and fight to end it by 2030.