SABC News - Zim launches ground-breaking HIV testing trial:Tuesday 1 December 2015

Zim launches ground-breaking HIV testing trial

Tuesday 1 December 2015 20:09

Shingai Nyoka

Self-testing kits will be distributed in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the first phase, with South Africa expected to come on board in the second phase.(SABC)

As the world marks World AIDS day on 01 December, a four year, ground-breaking trial on HIV self-testing has been launched.

The HIV-Self Testing Africa (STAR) project will be carried out by the Populations Services International (PSI) in collaboration with World Health Organisation and UNITAID. It's the largest ever evaluation of HIV-self testing in Africa and will inform world health guidelines and policy.

The project was launched in Harare on the eve of World Aids Day at the on-going AIDS and STI conference ICASA. Self-testing kits will be distributed in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the first phase with South Africa expected to come on board in the second phase.

The simple three step test to determine one's status requires a swab of the lower and upper gum once followed by inserting the device in a vial containing a solution. Within 20 - 40 minutes the results are out.

In the first two year phase from February 2016, 750 000 of these test kits will be available in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia mainly to at risk groups.  

The START project’s first phase will cost $23 million, the second phase of the trials will run to 2019 and distribute 1.9 million self-test kits

In 2014, the United Nations set targets to ensure that 90% of all people living with HIV are tested. In Africa only one in 10 people have ever been tested. Experts say self-testing could present a chance to diagnose, the undiagnosed.

Karin Hatzhold, director of the UNITAID/PSIHIV Self-testing Africa Star Project says, “Those especially in the rural areas have limited access to health care facilities and where health services are offered have limited access to testing services. We have this in South Africa, with the New Start Network or any other testing services especially in rural areas. Obviously there are some barriers with some populations, especially the key populations, as well as men not wanting to go for testing because of stigma and inconveniences, so the self-testing will be addressing these inconveniences so the self-testing people can take place in the privacy of their home.

The trials will determine Africa's readiness to conduct self-testing, the potential market, consumer demand, as well as any potential social harm.

According to Hatzhold, “this test is already used in professional settings. It is accurate; we only have to prove that lay people can use it.”

A major concern is whether self-testers will be able to access vital counselling services. US manufacturer, Orasure Technologies, has been retailing similar kits in the United States and Europe. 

It recently conducted trials in Malawi. President and CEO Orasure Technologies, Douglas Michels, says, ”The tests are given to the individual by a health care professional they can explain the test and explain how to perform the test. “

The START project’s first phase will cost $23 million, the second phase of the trials will run to 2019 and distribute 1.9 million self-test kits.

But the market will likely have to wait until 2020 before the product is available for the general population. PSI says it is still to determine whether kits will be available for retail or through limited access via health care professionals.


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