The National Planning Committee (NPC) is currently making preparations for the upcoming official launch of HIV Self Testing (HIVST) in the country, scheduled to take place on July 19.
The event will be held at the Omanye Aba Hall of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and marks a significant step in introducing innovative strategies to promote HIV testing and encourage individuals to be aware of their HIV status.
It will be under the theme: “Test Yourself: Know Your Status”, and expected to atteact Members of Parliament, Traditional Leaders, Religious Leaders, Development Partners, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Media.
Mr. Ernest Amoabeng Oteng, the Lead Coordinator of the HIV Self-Testing (HIVST) program at the Ghana Health Service, has released a statement regarding the upcoming launch of HIVST.
The statement, which was also shared with the Ghana News Agency (GNA), highlights the global challenge of low awareness of HIV status, with only around 70 percent of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) being aware of their condition worldwide.
This lack of awareness poses a significant obstacle to achieving the global goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
In Ghana, the AIDS Commission reports that there are over 350,000 people living with HIV, but only approximately 71 percent of them are aware of their HIV status.
The remaining 29 percent who are unaware of their status represent a concerning issue as they may unknowingly transmit the virus.
“For this reason, it is sometimes difficult for individuals to voluntarily walk into health facilities to get tested. Also, due to stigmatisation, 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 public 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 statement read.
It said the introduction of HIVST had been welcomed by experts as a potential game changer in scaling up HIV testing services.
Among the various HIV self-testing (HIVST) methods, one type is the oral HIVST known as OraQuick. This involves swabbing the upper and lower gums with an oral swab test stick and placing the stick in a test tube solution. After waiting for 20 minutes, the results can be read.
If a single line appears on the test stick, it indicates a negative result. However, if two lines appear, it indicates a reactive result, which requires confirmation through a test at a health facility.
Before taking the test, users should refrain from eating, drinking, or using oral products such as mouthwash or toothpaste for thirty minutes.
The statement highlighted that the oral HIVST method, such as OraQuick, has been successfully implemented in several Sub-Saharan African countries, including South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Cameroon. These experiences have shown that HIVST is widely accepted, particularly among hard-to-reach populations.
HIVST is gaining popularity due to its privacy and confidentiality, attracting many first-time testers. The statement noted that in preparation for the official launch, SH:24, a UK-based online sexual and reproductive health service organization, and Ghana HIV and AIDS Network (GHANET) have been commissioned by the Ghana Health Service to pilot the HIVST method in the country.
Preliminary results from the pilot phase, which involved the use of the SH:24 virtual platform and courier service for distributing HIVST kits in Accra, as well as community-based distribution by GHANET in 50 districts across Ghana, have indicated a widespread acceptance of the method in the country.