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Ghana to launch new HIV self-testing program

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Ghana is set to launch a new HIV self-testing (HIVST) program at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly on July 19, 2023.

The program on the theme “Test Yourself: Know Your Status” is coordinated by the National Planning Committee (NPC) in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

This seeks to make it easier and more convenient for people to get tested for HIV.

According to the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC), there are more than 350,000 persons living with HIV.

However, only about 71% of them are aware of their status. The remaining 29%, consequently, pose a major concern as they may, unknowingly, be spreading the virus.

The Lead Coordinator of the Ghana and AIDS Network Ernest Amoabeng Ortsin explained that the “HIVST is similar to how a malaria or pregnancy test can be done at home and the results known within minutes. With oral HIVST (for instance using OraQuick), it involves the swabbing of the upper and lower gums with an oral swab test stick and dipping the stick in a test tube solution and waiting for 20 minutes to read the results.”

During its trial stages, Mr Ortsin explained that “the SH:24 used a virtual platform and courier service to distribute the HIVST kits in Accra, mainly, whereas GHANET undertook community-based distribution in 50 districts across the country. Preliminary results from the pilot show that, contrary to initial concerns, HIVST is seen by many Ghanaians as a very convenient way of testing to know one’s status”.

Already, some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa including South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, among others, have rolled out HIVST initiatives.

Read the full statement on HIVST below

HIV Self-Testing (HIVST) is one of the newest innovations in the range of strategies aimed at encouraging persons to know their HIV status.

Around the world, it is estimated that only about 70 percent of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) are aware of their status.

This has become a major hindrance in the global strategy towards ending AIDS by 2030.

In Ghana, for example, the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) reports that there are more than 350,000 persons living with HIV. However, only about 71% of them are aware of their status.

The remaining 29%, consequently, pose a major concern as they may, unknowingly, be spreading the virus.

One of the major obstacles that impede HIV testing is fear (occasioned by the high levels of stigmatization towards persons who test positive for HIV).

For this reason, it is sometimes difficult for individuals to voluntarily walk into health facilities to get tested. Also, due to stigmatization, some individuals refuse to go on treatment when they are diagnosed with HIV.

It is therefore unsurprising that, on the average, more than 10,000 Ghanaians die every year, with complications linked to HIV and AIDS. Presently, some publio health experts have cautioned that, given the trend of surges in new HIV infections, the country risks not achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets by 2030.

The introduction of HIVST has been welcomed by experts as a potential gameohanger in scaling up HIV testing services. In some ways, HIVST is similar to how a malaria or pregnancy test can be done at home and the results known within minutes. With oral HIVST (for instance using OraQuiok), it involves the swabbing of the upper and lower gums with an oral swab test stick and dipping the stick in a test tube solution and waiting for 20 minutes to read the results.

If a single line appears on the test stick, it shows that the result is negative. If two lines appear, however, it shows that the result is reactive, subject to a confirmatory test in a health facility. As a precondition, users are not supposed to eat, drink or use oral oare products (such as mouthwash or toothpaste) 30 minutes before taking the test.

Already, some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa including South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, among others, have rolled out HIVST initiatives.

The outcomes, so far, indicate that HIVST is a widely accepted method of HIV testing, especially in relation to hard-to-reach populations. Owing to the absolute privacy and confidentiality associated with HIVST, it is fast growing in popularity and attracting many first-time-testers.

In Ghana, preparations are currently underway by a National Planning Committee (NPC) for the official launch of HIVST by the Minister for Health, Hon. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu (MP).

The ceremony is planned to take place at the Omanye Aba Hall of the Aoora Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) on Wednesday, July 1 9, 2023 at 9 am.

Participants invited to grace the occasion themed “Test Yourself: Know Your Status” include Members of Parliament, Traditional Leaders, Religious Leaders, Development Partners, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Media.

Ahead of the launch, two organizations SH:24 (a UK-based online sexual and reproductive health service organization) and Ghana HIV and AIDS Network (GHANET) were commissioned by the Ghana Health Service (through the National AIDS Control Programme) to undertake a pilot of HIVST in the country.

SH:24 used a virtual platform and courier service to distribute the HIVST kits in Accra, mainly, whereas GHANET undertook oommunity-based distribution in 50 districts across oountry. Preliminary results from the pilot shows that, contrary to initial concerns, HIVST is seen by many Ghanaians as a very convenient way of testing to know one’s status.

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