Globally, there are an estimated 19 million people who do not know they are living with HIV. Without knowledge of their status, individuals cannot access life-saving HIV care and treatment. To close this gap, UNITAID is investing $23 million to accelerate access to HIV testing through simple HIV self-tests in three high-burden African countries over the next two years. PSI and its partners will lead this initiative to dramatically shift the paradigm of HIV testing in Africa.
HIV self-testing programs that are effective, efficient and ethically sound, with adequate post-test support services, may provide cost-effective solutions for expanding testing uptake. 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. Additionally, it can encourage re-testing among those at high risk.
Although the US Food and Drug Administration approved an HIV self-test product for the US market in 2012, HIV self-testing remains uncommon elsewhere. More evidence is urgently needed to inform policy and programming decisions at both global and national levels, particularly for high burden countries.
With the support of UNITAID, Population Services International (PSI) and its partners, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University College London and the World Health Organization, will conduct the world’s largest evaluation of HIV self-testing to date. In Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, PSI and partners will pilot HIV self-testing models among different populations. Over the course of the two-year project, nearly 750,000 self-test kits will be distributed.
These pilots will generate crucial information about how to distribute self-test products effectively, ethically and efficiently, and will answer key questions about the feasibility, acceptability and impact of this intervention. The project will use these results, and other emerging evidence, to support the establishment of appropriate policy and to encourage new manufacturers to enter the self-test market. At the end of two years, the self-test market will be poised to dramatically increase access to HIV testing and impact HIV prevention, care and treatment goals.
Photo credit: Eliasaph Diassana