On the lines of the home-based pregnancy test kit, scientists at the National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) are undertaking a study to assess the accuracy of an oral saliva test for HIV infection. “The HIV oral saliva self-test is an indigenous one and we are validating how good these tests are,” Dr Samiran Panda, Director of NARI, told The Indian Express. The easy-to-use and cost-effective test will help increase HIV screening rates and also enable early diagnosis, he added.
The Indian Council of Medical Research’s scientific committee has given the go-ahead to NARI for the project. It is like a pregnancy test kit and the confirmatory diagnosis is done later. But the important aspect of the pregnancy test kit is that the control is in the woman’s hand. Likewise, people, who still feel there is a stigma attached to being detected with HIV, will find it easier to conduct the initial self-test, Dr Panda added.
“These tests are available in the US and France and what we are doing at NARI is to examine the performance of an indigenously developed oral saliva test for HIV infection. At the same time, qualitative studies will be undertaken to find out the acceptability rate among people. This study will take at least three months to complete,” he said.
Prevention of new HIV infections continues to be the mainstay of India’s national AIDS response. By the end of 2017, there were an estimated 21.40 lakh people living with HIV. The HIV incidence per 1,000 uninfected people is estimated to have declined from 0.64 in 1995 to 0.07 in 2017.
However, the pace of decline has been slow. ICMR officials pointed out that when people living with or at risk of HIV are discriminated against, they do go underground. This then poses a huge challenge to reach people for HIV testing, treatment and prevention. In-depth interviews will be conducted with the high-risk group to find out the acceptability of such a test, Dr Panda said.