An estimated one in five South Africans with HIV are unaware of their status. In support of the government’s goal to create easier access to testing, non-profit organisation Witkoppen Clinic, in partnership with the Unjani Clinics Network and the Johannesburg North GP Network, has distributed more than 3 500 HIV self-screening kits to patients.
“The project has been a huge success,” says Executive Director of the clinic, Dr Jean Bassett. “In the past two months, we’ve seen a 100% initiation onto antiretroviral treatment for patients who have screened positive using the self-screening kits.”
Although some patients are comfortable with testing at a health facility, others are not. The kits, which are free to patients, allow for HIV screening in the privacy of their home. “People test for different reasons and we must find innovative solutions to accommodate them. The self-screening kits are an effective way of addressing issues of access, stigma and confidentiality that are often barriers to testing,” says Bassett.
Self-screening is when a person collects their own blood or oral fluid, performs a rapid diagnostic test and interprets the result themselves. With a 99.7% accuracy rate, the test takes a maximum of 15 minutes to determine a result.
“If your result is positive, you will be required see a counsellor to take a confirmatory test,” says Bassett. “This ensures that your test result is correct.If positive, you will be initiated onto ART treatment as soon as possible.”
The project is funded by the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, a division of the Wits Health Consortium, which forms part of a Unit aid-funded HIV self-testing Africa (STAR) initiative focused on distributing alternative testing methods around the continent.
“We’ve had a positive response from members of the community, with many asking to take kits home to loved ones who are reluctant to go to a clinic for testing. While we are not offering this currently, we are looking at how we can reach more people who need this service,” says Bassett.
Access to HIV testing is an important factor in reaching the United Nations’ (UN) 90-90-90 goal – by the year 2020, 90% of people with HIV must know their status, 90% of people with HIV must be on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of people on treatment must be virally supressed.
Two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published guidelines recommending that self-screening be included in countries’ existing testing services. So far, 59 countries have implemented HIV self-screening policies and 53 others are still in the process of developing policies.
Witkoppen Centre provides a range of other healthcare services, including HIV and TB testing, a mental health clinic, dentist, as well as the opportunity to consult qualified doctors, nurses, psychologists and pharmacists.
For more information on the services they provide, visit www.witkoppen.org. Interesting facts and service updates can be found on Facebook (@WitkoppenClinic) and Twitter (@Witkoppen105).