UNITAID and Population Services International launch the largest effort ever to catalyze HIV self-testing in Africa

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In advance of World AIDS Day, UNITAID team and Population Services International (PSI) up in a two-year project that will scale up HIV self-testing in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Today, on the eve of World AIDS Day, PSI joined UNITAID, the World Health Organization and ministry of health officials from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to launch the UNITAID/PSI HIV Self-Testing Africa (STAR) Project at the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

The largest evaluation of HIV self-testing (HIVST) in Africa to date, the two-year $23 million UNITAID/PSI pilot project is being implemented in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and University College London. It will generate crucial information about how to deliver HIVST, how to generate HIVST demand and the potential public health impact of HIVST.

At the launch, government health officials, affected populations, donors, implementers and researchers highlighted how the project can contribute to the global effort to achieve UNAIDS’s 90/90/90 treatment targets set for 2020. The ambitious targets call on the global community to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 90% of people with diagnosed HIV infection receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 90% of those individuals on ART achieve viral suppression.

“It is estimated that less than 50% of adults living with HIV know their status; this is particularly true for high-burden countries,” says Dr. Karin Hatzold, Project Director of UNITAID/PSI STAR Project. “Through our joint project with UNITAID, we can promote self-testing to better reach people with limited access to current HIV testing services due to privacy issues or lack of convenience. It can also encourage re-testing among those at high risk.”

The STAR Project is designed to reach populations particularly in rural and peri-urban areas. In Zimbabwe and Malawi, key target groups will also include female sex workers and men who have sex with men. Nearly 750,000 HIV self-test kits will be distributed across these three countries. The kits will allow individuals to test themselves using an oral swab, at a time and location convenient to them, and provide results within minutes.

OraSure Technologies’ advanced OraQuick HIV Self Test, a rapid test that uses a simple oral fluid swab, has been selected for the research conducted in the STAR project.

“While HIV self-test products have been approved for use in the US, France and the UK, there are currently no HIV rapid diagnostic test (RDTs) for HIV Self-testing that are WHO pre-qualified and HIVST remains uncommon on the African continent,” points out UNITAID Operations Director Robert Matiru. “The STAR Project aims to address policy and market entry barriers for HIVST and increase access and informed demand for HIV Self-Testing in Africa. By addressing specific social and market barriers to self-testing, it will inform policy and programming decisions at both national and global levels.”

Website: http://unitaid.org/en/statements/1501-population-services-international-and-unitaid-launch-the-largest-effort-ever-to-catalyze-hiv-self-testing-in-africa

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