17 July 2017
OVER 100 000 people have self tested for HIV since the country rolled out the programme in 2016, resulting in an increase in HIV testing coverage, a Ministry of Health and Child Care Official has said.
Head of the AIDS and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Owen Mugurungi said through their partner with Population Services International, the uptake of HIV testing has increased while the uptake of self testing has been highly acceptable by populations that have been reluctant to test with conventional services.
This comes at a time when the New Start network introduced the HIV Self Testing (HIVST) as an alternative to the traditional counselling and testing.
“The programme has seen 129, 272 people self testing for HIV. Uptake of HIVST when introduced at community level through door to door distribution was very high, especially reaching men and adolescents 16-24, populations currently not reached with conventional testing.
“HIVST was also introduced in the New Start network with the HIVST option being offered as an alternative to conventional counselling and testing,” he said.
Dr Mugurungi said HIVST had also been introduced in the national Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) where men are offered self-test kits before they accessed.
“In addition HIVST was also introduced in the national VMMC program. Men were offered HIV self-test kits before they accessed VMMC and finding out about their status before going for VMMC greatly improved their motivation to get circumcised as they could find out about their status in the privacy of their homes and then make an informed decision to go for MC.
“HIVST also enables people to be linked to other HIV-related services after the test, whether the result be an HIV positive or negative result.”
Dr Mugurungi added that the country will soon scale up on HIVST, arguing that the first phase of the pilot programme has shown that feasibility and acceptability was high in the country.
“The scale up of HIVST in Zimbabwe will be accompanied by a marketing and communications campaign to make people aware of the new option to test. What we have learnt so far is that HIVST is highly acceptable by populations that have been reluctant to test with conventional services.
“HIVST has been able to increase HIV testing coverage in areas where test kits were distributed at community level – we reached coverage rates of up to 65 percent of households taking up HIVST. We have learned that a lay person can use an HIVST accurately with valid test results.
“We have not observed any social harms or coercion with HIV self-testing and demand for HIVST outweighed the supply. HIVST is also more cost-effective than conventional HIV testing. With the scale up of HIVST we want now to make HIVST accessible to anybody who wants to use it, making HIVST a reality in Zimbabwe and Africa,” he said.
The country will soon expand HIVST to all provinces and will be scaled up to explore additional distribution models, Dr Mugurungi said.
“The STAR project in Zimbabwe, which was launched officially by the Minister of Health and Child Care at ICASA in 2015, has delivered outstanding results, which motivated the investment of additional funds for STAR phase two, which will be launched in mid of July 2017.
“Under STAR phase two, HIVST will expand to all provinces in Zimbabwe and will be scaled up to explore additional distribution models.
HIVST will continue to be delivered at community level to ensure access for people who cannot travel to health facilities.
It will also be integrated at heath facility level and offered to clients for distribution to their sexual partners to reach partners who are not able to access health facilities for HIV testing.”“