Preparations are underway by the National Planning Committee (NPC) for the official launch of HIV Self Testing (HIVST) in the country on July 19.
The launch, which will be held at Omanye Aba Hall of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), is one of the newest innovations in the range of strategies aimed at encouraging persons to know their HIV status.
It will be under the theme: “Test Yourself: Know Your Status”, and expected to attract Members of Parliament, Traditional Leaders, Religious Leaders, Development Partners, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Media.
This was contained in a statement released by the Lead Coordinator of the HIV Self-Testing (HIVST) programme at the Ghana Health Service, Mr Ernest Amoabeng Oteng, and copied to the GNA.
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, the country’s AIDS Commission reports that there are more than 350,000 persons living with HIV.
However, only about 71 per cent of them are aware of their status.
The remaining 29 per cent pose a major concern as they may, unknowingly, be spreading the virus.
“One of the major obstacles that impede HIV testing is fear, which is due to the high levels of stigmatisation 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 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.
One type of testing is the oral HIVST known as the OraQuiok which involved 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.
However, If two lines appear, 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 products such as mouthwash or toothpaste thirty minutes before taking the test.
The statement said the method had been already adopted in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa such as South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Cameroun.
It said the outcomes, so far, indicated that HIVST was a widely accepted method of HIV testing, especially with hard-to-reach populations.
The statement said owing to the absolute privacy and confidentiality associated with HIVST, it was fast growing in popularity and attracting many first-time-testers.
Ahead of the launch, two organisations SH:24, a UK-based online sexual and reproductive health service organisation and Ghana HIV and AIDS Network (GHANET) are commissioned by the Ghana Health Service through the National AIDS Control Programme to undertake a pilot test of the method in the country.
Preliminary results have shown a wide acceptance of it in Ghana after using an SH:24 – a virtual platform and courier service, which distributed the HIVST kits in Accra, with GHANET undertaking community-based distribution in 50 districts across the country