Patronage of HIV self-testing has soared, barely a month after the kit was launched, Dr Stephen Ayisi Addo, Programme Manager, National Aids Control Programme (NACP) has disclosed.
Dr Ayisi Addo, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Accra, said there were over 33,000 community requests as at the time of the launch and the number had doubled to over 70,000 requests within the shortest time.
He said the programme had so far received over 11,000 requests online as distribution was currently ongoing across the country.
The oral mucosa test kit is used to orally test for the HIV status of an individual. The HIV Self-Test (HIVST) is one of the newest innovations in the range of strategies aimed at encouraging Ghanaians to get tested to know their HIV status.
The kit contains a white spatula-like swab, a test solution, and holder to position the test solution and a manual to guide the usage of the kit.
The test is performed by first checking for the expiring date and possible breakage of the kit before opening. Upon opening the kit, one would notice that it has been calibrated with the letters C and T. The C stands for control whilst the T, represents Test.
The test is done by rubbing the swab gently over the outer upper and lower gums severally after which you quickly dip into the solution, allowing it to rest in the solution between 15 to 20 minutes, after which the test is ready.
If the test results have a line in only the C calibration, it proves that the individual is HIV negative but if it indicates two lines cross at both C and T calibration, then the test is described as reactive to HIV, after which a test would have to be done at the hospital for confirmation.
Persons who test negative are encouraged to maintain their status while persons whose result shows reactive would have to undergo three additional tests at the health facility for final confirmation and treatment if finally confirmed positive.
Dr Ayisi Addo expressed concern that despite the efforts in the prevention of new infections, promotion of condom use, treatment as well as care and support services, new infections were recorded.
“We have been doing all these things and yet in 2022, by the end of that year, 354,000 people were estimated to have HIV, while still picking a little over 16,000 new infections,” he said.
The strategy is also targeting people who may not visit the facility for testing and a little over 100,000 people who do not know their status.
The Programme Manager said the new strategy was a game changer and “it is expanding the frontiers and access to treatment beyond the health facility, encouraging people to know their status in their own comfort and confidentiality.”
Dr Ayisi Addo said some lessons were learnt from the global community, where there had been positive responses in their countries, hence the reason for the adoption of the policy.
He said a pilot conducted in 2020 saw a dividend with an accepted rate of 80 per cent and with the current distribution, people had accepted.
He said, “We are noticing a very high rate of first-time testers which tells us that if we had not done this, those people would never have been tested.”
Dr. Ayisi Addo said the good thing was that because HIV was private and confidential, people could choose to report to them or not but thankfully they were reporting because of the counselling associated with it.
“We are able to tell that out of the people who are testing for the first time, there are people who are becoming positive for the first time, and they are being linked to treatment which means that all these people will have been missed,” he added.
The Programme Manager was optimistic that the new strategy would help to improve the 95 95 95 targets stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) global aspiration target, where everyone was expected to know their HIV status.
He said getting treatment after testing positive would suppress the virus within six months and the person who was undetectable would not transmit the virus. He said to end the HIV epidemic,” we need to first of all make sure that all the people, who are on treatment are virally suppressed, because treatment is prevention.”
“We have a situation where people have been married for a number of years and because the person is on treatment, the virus is suppressed and there is no transmission. So, when a person misses a treatment or medication, then that becomes a problem and that is why adherence is key,” he said.
Dr Ayisi Addo said there was a leaflet written in both English and Twi to guide persons in the use of the test kits, while documentaries have been put on social media to help the public. He encouraged the public to take advantage of the strategy and ensure maximum cooperation.
“I am appealing to Ghanaians to embrace this new game changer, we have come very far from a state where one will have to go to a laboratory, which takes like two to three weeks to produce the results to now self-testing in the privacy and comfort of the individual,” he added.
He said currently, Ghanaians could have access to the HIV test kits at some pharmacy shops and online and could log on to www.hivselftestghana to make requests.