18m lack HIV treatment – WHO
Eighteen million people with HIV are currently unable to access treatment, the majority of whom are unaware of their status, a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report has said.
According to a new WHO Progress Report, although a similar number of HIV positive people are on antiretroviral therapy (ARTs), about 40 percent of all people with HIV (over 14 million) remain unaware of their status.
Lack of an HIV diagnosis is a major obstacle to implementing the organisation’s recommendation that everyone with HIV should be offered ART.
This situation, the WHO disclosed, put people at higher risk of HIV infection who often find it difficult to access existing testing services.
“Millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment which can also prevent HIV transmission to others,” Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said.
WHO, thus, released new guidelines on HIV self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV diagnosis as the world marks world AIDS Day today.
Dr Chan said 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.
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.
Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of people with HIV learning of their status increased from 12 percent to 60 percent globally.
This increase in HIV testing uptake worldwide has led to more than 80 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV receiving ART.
Up to 70 percent of partners of people with HIV are also HIV positive. Many of those partners are not currently getting tested. The new WHO guidelines recommend ways to help HIV positive people notify their partners about their status, and also encourage them to get tested.
“By offering HIV self-testing, we can empower people to find out their own HIV status and also to notify their partners and encourage them to get tested as well,” Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV, said.
“This should lead to more people knowing their status and being able to act upon it. Self-testing will be particularly relevant for those people who may find it difficult to access testing in clinical settings and might prefer self-testing as their method of choice,” he stated.
Self-testing has been shown to nearly double the frequency of HIV testing among men who have sex with men, and recent studies in Kenya found that male partners of pregnant women had twice the uptake of HIV testing when offered self-testing compared with standard testing.
Twenty three countries currently have national policies that support HIV self-testing.