For the first time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended HIV self-testing in the privacy of one’s home using HIV kit. This shift can bring about a major breakthrough in HIV treatment by improving access to diagnosis.
Although India does not permit HIV self-test currently, the UN agency’s guidance has encouraged the health ministry of the country to evaluate the proposal.
“We will certainly look at WHO’s recommendations and evaluate how it can be adopted,” said C K Mishra, secretary to the health ministry.
The progress could be significant as the lack of HIV diagnosis is a key barrier in reducing the burden of the infection globally. It prevents the government and public health agency to offer anti-retroviral therapy or other treatment alternatives to those suffering from the disease.
Ironically, around 87 per cent of HIV-infected people in India are not even aware that they are suffering from the disease as per the estimates. They also unintentionally are spreading the virus. Around 40 per cent of all people with HIV or more than 14 million remain ignorant of their status worldwide.
Thus, self-testing would principally be relevant for people who find testing in clinical settings complex and would prefer self-testing as their method of choice.
The HIV self-test can be done using oral fluid or blood-finger-pricks to find out the status in a private and convenient place. The outcome of the test can be seen within 20 minutes or may be less. People with positive outcome are advised to opt for confirmatory tests at health clinics.
India is likely to adopt the UN agency’s suggestions for self-testing, a senior official said. “Millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment, which can also prevent HIV transmission to others,” said Dr Margaret Chan, director-general, WHO. “HIV self testing should open the door for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.”