Dar es Salaam. The government has revealed plans to initiate a program for HIV self-testing, where an individual will be able to use saliva or blood to discover their status.
Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children deputy minister Faustine Ndugulile revealed this on Friday, May 4, when he toured the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in the city alongside US acting ambassador to Tanzania Inmi Patterson.
Dr Ndugulile said for Tanzania to cut down rates of HIV transmission, it was prudent to embark on the self-testing strategy.
He cited reports showing that not many people in the country go for HIV screening at various centres.
“Especially the men,’’ he pointed out adding, “Even when they go, they take long to start taking ARVs.”
For her part, the acting US Ambassador Patterson said the US has committed Sh1.17 trillion through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) to combat HIV transmission in Tanzania in an effort to bring the disease under control by September, 2019.
An estimated 1.4 million people live with HIV and Aids in Tanzania but only 52 per cent of them are aware of their condition, data from Tanzania Commission for Aids (Tacaids) show.
What HIV self-testing means
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released new guidelines on HIV self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV diagnosis. That was in 2016.
According to the guidelines, results of HIV self-testing are ready within 20 minutes or less. Those with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics.
The WHO recommends they receive information and links to counseling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services.
The self-test method uses saliva or some blood drawn after pricking a finger.
HIV self-testing is a way to reach more people with undiagnosed HIV and represents a step forward to empower individuals, diagnose people earlier before they become sick, bring services closer to where people live, and create demand for HIV testing.
As Tanzania looks forward to attaining the 90-90-90 goals in HIV and Aids care and prevention by 2020, this initiative may play a key role in accelerating the efforts.
Issues have been raised about potential abuse by individuals who might force their sex partners to take the test without their consent.
But also, there have been fears, in countries where such programmes have rolled out, that self-testing might encourage unsafe sex leading to an increase in unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and social delinquency.
Policymakers and researchers have been called upon to come up with mechanisms to ensure that this new approach does more good than harm.