By Dr Karin Hatzold, Associate Director HIV/TB/Hepatitis
Building upon the success and insights gained from our work with HIV self-testing (HIVST), PSI is actively applying this approach to better integrate self-care, more broadly, in the health system beginning with Hepatitis C and COVID-19. Self-testing has emerged as a powerful tool to increase access to integrated, differentiated, and decentralized health services, accelerating prevention, care, and treatment for various diseases, while also increasing health system resilience against COVID-19.
Here’s how we got there.
Seven years ago, the landscape of HIV self-testing lacked global guidelines, and only the U.S., the UK and France had policies in place that allowed for HIV self-testing. High disease burdened countries in low-and-middle-income-countries (LMICs) lacked evidence and guidance for HIVST despite major gaps in HIV diagnosis.
However, through the groundbreaking research from the Unitaid-funded HIV Self-Testing Africa (STAR) initiative led by PSI, we demonstrated that HIVST is not only safe and acceptable but also cost-effective for reaching populations at high risk with limited access to conventional HIV testing. This research played a pivotal role in informing the normative guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and shaping policies at the country level. As a result, more than 108 countries globally now have reported HIVST policies, with an increasing number of countries implementing and scaling up HIVST to complement and partially replace conventional testing services. This became especially significant as nations tried to sustain HIV services amidst the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By leveraging our expertise, PSI is conducting research to identify specific areas and populations where the adoption of Hepatitis C and COVID-19 self-testing could significantly enhance testing uptake and coverage. This research serves as the foundation for developing targeted strategies and interventions to expand access to self-testing, ensure that individuals have convenient and timely options for testing for these diseases, and are linked to care, treatment and prevention services through differentiated test and treat approaches.