Kenya is the first country in the world to introduce an instant HIV self-test kit to the public. The Kenyan Ministry of Health says 1.5 million people are living with HIV, and more than 500 thousand are unaware that they have the virus. In 2015, there were an estimated 78 000 new HIV infections in Kenya. And testing rates are low, especially among men, meaning they are not able to benefit from treatment.
Researchers argue that reaching universal HIV-status awareness is crucial to ensure all HIV-infected patients have full access to lifesaving drugs. In response to the challenge, the Kenyan government has launched the Be Self Sure campaign to encourage people to get tested for HIV. As part of the campaign, the government is making HIV self-test kits available through public and private health facilities and selected pharmacies for around US$ 8 each, a low price which was negotiated in a partnership between the government of Kenya and the private sector.
“Opportunities for HIV testing could be enhanced by offering self-testing in populations that fear stigma and discrimination when accessing conventional HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) in health care facilities.”
Officials say it is important to know your status “so that you make the correct life choices.”
The Head of National Aids Control Council (NACC) in Kenya, Martin Sirengo told Nasibo Kabale of the Standard newspaper that the kits, which will involve a blood test or swabbing the mouth for oral fluid samples, makes the results available immediately (for the blood test) or after 20 minutes. “The tests are highly sensitive and have an 80 percent accuracy rate; that is why if you test positive, you will need a follow-up test,” said Dr Sirengo.
The United States Food and Drug Administration approved over the counter sale and use of the OraQuick – In-Home HIV Test – in the United States in 2012.
OraQuick, which will require the user to do 360 degrees swab of the upper and lower mouth gums using a collection kit. The swabbed saliva sample is placed in a solution which comes with the kit and gives the results in 20 minutes.
The second one, a blood sample kit known as Insti, would involve pricking the finger for blood which is put on the kit. The results are ready in a minute. Those who test positive for HIV in either test can visit a health facility for a re-test to confirm the results.
The Kenyan government hopes to make the test kits available for free in public health facilities by the end of June 2017.
Meanwhile in a 2016 study of self-tests in Khayelitsha, South Africa, by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), healthcare workers said the kits should be provided only to individuals who demonstrate they fully understood the procedures involved and who are ready to attend post-test counselling. While self-testing is not prohibited by South African regulations, the Department of Health and the South African Medical Association have warned against its use.
As of May 2015, in its National HIV Counselling and Testing Guidelines, the Department of Health states that ‘HIV self-testing is currently nor recommended and supported in South Africa.