Kenya: UN health agency allows people to test themselves for HIV at home

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially allowed self-testing in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

This approach is being taken to ensure more people are tested and put on treatment.

A statement by WHO notes: "HIV self-testing means people can use oral fluid or blood-finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting. Results are ready within 20 minutes or less. Those with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics.

WHO recommends they receive information and links to counselling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services."

WHO seeks to have this method adopted so that the target of 90 per cent of people tested and 90 per cent of those testing positive put on medication is achieved.

Christine Kisia, WHO's national health promotion officer, says the guidelines will focus on two aspects, self-testing and partner notification.

"Self-testing will be more like a pregnancy test where a person can test for themselves either using the oral swab or blood testing but it will not be confirmatory since the guidelines will spell out how a confirmation can be done," Dr Kisia said.

But Kisia says the method will work alongside the methods that have been used before in order to ensure more people are tested and put on treatment.

This new guidelines coincide with the launch of a study done by Peter Cherutich, deputy director of medical services in the Ministry of Health, which found that 35 per cent of partners who were tested after they were named by those who tested positive turned out to be positive themselves.

The new method involves the tracking down of partners of a person who tests positive for the virus and getting them to test. This is a common practice in the United States of America and Europe but not in Africa and Asia.

In the research titled, "Assisted partner services for HIV in Kenya: A cluster randomised controlled trial", Dr Cherutich notes that the new method seeks to see if more people can be tested even as it seeks to create linkages to care services for partners of people living with HIV.

"Assisted partner services for index patients with HIV infections involves elicitation of information about sex partners and contacting them to ensure that they test for HIV and link to care. Assisted partner services are not widely available in Africa," the study notes.

One other key finding of the study done between August 2013 and August 2015 was that assisted partner services did not increase intimate partner violence.

Cherutich says that once one tested positive, the research team went ahead and called ex-partners to tell them that they might be at risk of exposure.

He says, "People do not really want to test and this is one way to get more people to test if we are really serious in eradicating HIV."

However, this will most likely raise issues of confidentiality which Cherutich says have been addressed through not mentioning the name of the person who tests positive and gives the name of partner(s).