Kenya plans to make HIV self-testing kits part of antenatal care, in an ambitious programme to increase the number of people who know their HIV status.
The National Aids and STIs Control Programme (Nascop) has teamed up with the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) to widen the coverage for diagnosis of the virus.
Along with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the self-test kit is part of the government’s strategy to combat the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Pepfar will donate 500,000 of 600,000 kits that will be distributed to public health facilities.
The government rolled out the self-testing kits last May to encourage Kenyans to test their HIV statuses from the comfort and privacy of their homes.
The kits have an accuracy rate of 80 per cent, and cost between Sh800 to Sh1,500 depending on the location of the stockist.
Head of Nascop Dr Kigen Barmasai, said the target group has been high-risk sexually active girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years.
Speaking during the launch of the kits last year National Aids Control Council (NACC) Executive Director Nduku Kilonzo said close to 500,000 Kenyans still did not know their HIV status, and many are reluctant to visit testing clinics.
“As more people become aware of their status, the economic impact of HIV will reduce,” she said at the time.
Statistics from NACC show that new infections among young people aged 15 to 24 years went up in 2016, with the group contributing two in every five new infections.
In this group which contributed almost half (43 per cent) of new infections, 26,000 cases were reported and 3,300 died due to Aids-related complications.
The trend is worrying as infections are on a downward spiral in other segments. The government hopes that self-test kits and PrEP can help stem that tide.
With the self-test kit, an individual collects a sample of his or her blood or saliva, conducts the test as stipulated and then interprets the results himself.
All positive results suggesting an infection should be confirmed at a healthcare facility. “The tests are highly sensitive and have an 80 per cent accuracy rate.
“Should you test positive, you will need a follow-up test at a health facility to confirm the results,” said Dr Kigen of Nascop, adding that the margin of error is small.
“At the moment, both oral and blood-based HIV self-test kits are available in private hospitals and registered community pharmacies.
“We are working out the modalities of making the kit available in shops, supermarkets and other public commercial outlets in an effort to make it more accessible to members of the public,” he added.
The kits are currently restricted to sale at pharmacies because of their product classification under the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
At launch, 30 pharmacies were targeted as stockists, but this has been expanded to 62, with 2,000 kits taken up to-date.
“So far, we have sold about 2,000 kits and the response, though lukewarm, has been encouraging. We now intend to roll them out to public health facilities by targeting at least 600,000 pregnant women,” said Dr Kigen.