Self-testing: a potentially powerful tool for fighting HIV
In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on testing for HIV. The idea behind this drive is that if people know their status, they’ll be able to seek treatment and support. One approach that’s become fairly common is self-testing, or self-screening.
This is when a person collects their own specimen (blood or oral fluid), performs a rapid diagnostic test and interprets the result themselves. This type of test can also be done by a health provider or peer educator. The blood is obtained by pricking one’s finger; the oral fluid is swabbed from the inside of your cheek.
The rapid diagnostic test detects HIV antibodies in the blood or oral fluid. If the result is positive, people are encouraged to go and get their blood tested by a professional for confirmation.
Self-screening for HIV has been touted as a disruptive innovation: one that can help to close the HIV testing gap by reaching key and under-tested populations who won’t necessarily want to visit a doctor or clinic for testing. These under-tested populations include sex workers, men who have sex with men and young women aged between 15 and 24. Research shows that HIV self-screening yields highly accurate results even when carried out by untrained lay people. Two years ago the World Health Organisation (WHO) published guidelines recommending that self-screening be included in countries’ existing testing services. So far, 59 countries have implemented HIV self-screening policies and 53 others are developing these policies. Access to HIV testing is an important factor in reaching the UN’s “90-90-90” goal: by the year 2020, 90% of people with HIV must know their status, 90% of people with HIV must be on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of people on treatment must be virally suppressed. ...