#ENDAIDS: MOVING SELF-TESTING THEORY TO REALITY

How can HIV self-testing (HIVST) reduce the current HIV testing gap and help reach the United Nations 90-90-90 target?

At the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS2016), UNITAID, Population Services International (PSI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will host a joint satellite session to answer this question and provide insights into the HIV Self-Test AfRica (STAR) project. Through the STAR project, UNITAID, PSI, WHO and other partners are evaluating and scaling up HIVST through different distribution models in three high HIV-burden countries: Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

PSI Global Ambassador Debra Messing (center left) and Robert Matiru, Director of Operations at UNITAID (center right), reveal their HIV self-test results along with Gilbert (right) and Mathilda Kasungu (left), a Malawian couple from Neno District, Malawi, one of the sites where the UNITAID/PSI HIV Self-Testing AfRica (STAR) project is currently being implemented. The couple agreed to conduct their own self-test and share the results with the group. Prior to using self-testing, Gilbert was put off by the lack of privacy and time required for conventional testing and never got tested for HIV. He was a ‘proxy tester,’ which means he considered his wife’s HIV test a suitable way to gauge his status: “If she is negative, then I am too.”

PSI Global Ambassador Debra Messing (center left) and Robert Matiru, Director of Operations at UNITAID (center right), reveal their HIV self-test results along with Gilbert (right) and Mathilda Kasungu (left), a Malawian couple from Neno District, Malawi, one of the sites where the UNITAID/PSI HIV Self-Testing AfRica (STAR) project is currently being implemented. The couple agreed to conduct their own self-test and share the results with the group. Prior to using self-testing, Gilbert was put off by the lack of privacy and time required for conventional testing and never got tested for HIV. He was a ‘proxy tester,’ which means he considered his wife’s HIV test a suitable way to gauge his status: “If she is negative, then I am too.”

To provide a glimpse into the HIVST work being carried out in Malawi by PSI and its partners, the session will include the screening of the short film What Got Us Here, Won’t Get Us There. The film follows Henry Makhasu, a 19-year old Malawian community volunteer, as he distributes HIV self-test kits door-to-door throughout his rural community. PSI Global Ambassador and award-winning actress Debra Messing accompanies Henry as he visits the homes of potential HIVST users and educates them on this safe, simple and private testing method. She also meets with traditional leaders and village heads, who have played an instrumental role in motivating their communities to take up HIVST. “The film is a testimony to the trust Henry has built in his community,” said Dr. Karin Hatzold, PSI Deputy Director for HIV/AIDS and STAR Project Director. “He’s done great work teaching people the importance of self-testing and training them how to do it correctly.” The film shows how the introduction of HIVST has changed people’s perspectives about HIV testing and how people living with HIV in the community have benefited by knowing their status and being linked to HIV treatment and care.

Using an informational poster with directions in English and Chichewa, community-based distribution agent (CBDA) Henry Makhasu, 19, conducts an HIV self-test (HIVST) demonstration at the home of Smart, 22, and Atupele, 21, a young couple new to HIV self-testing. The couple lives in Jonathan village, Neno District, one of the sites where the UNITAID/PSI HIV Self-Testing AfRica (STAR) project is currently being implemented. The STAR project trains and employs CBDAs to distribute HIVST kits within the Chifunga Health Center catchment area. In addition to distributing and providing instructions on the correct use of self-testing kits, CBDAs also provide users with information on linkage to treatment and care in the event of a positive test result.

Using an informational poster with directions in English and Chichewa, community-based distribution agent (CBDA) Henry Makhasu, 19, conducts an HIV self-test (HIVST) demonstration at the home of Smart, 22, and Atupele, 21, a young couple new to HIV self-testing. The couple lives in Jonathan village, Neno District, one of the sites where the UNITAID/PSI HIV Self-Testing AfRica (STAR) project is currently being implemented. The STAR project trains and employs CBDAs to distribute HIVST kits within the Chifunga Health Center catchment area. In addition to distributing and providing instructions on the correct use of self-testing kits, CBDAs also provide users with information on linkage to treatment and care in the event of a positive test result.

The satellite session will include panelists from civil society, policy makers and representatives from the donor community. Speakers will highlight preliminary results from HIV self-testing activities at the community level in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well as discuss how different distribution models can be applied to reach key populations such as sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM). Finally, this event will provide insights into the market for HIVST through a landscape analysis and will feature discussions on the progress of global and country policy development, funding opportunities and commitments for HIVST scale up.

Photo credit: Eric Gauss

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