KING Letsie III last week launched an HIV Self-Testing strategy during the World AIDS Day held in Maseru.
The strategy, which was developed by the Ministry of Health, is expected to strengthen Lesotho’s HIV prevention and management of the epidemic through initiatives that will include the provision of HIV Self-Testing Kit through health centres. Working in collaboration with the Population Services International (PSI) the Ministry of Health will avail the kits to the public in the first half of 2018.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is: ‘Right to health for all’, which emphasise that it is every person’s right to lead a healthy life, raising the need for all actors including the government and Non-Governmental Organisations to introduce approaches that are multi-faceted and inclusive of all people.
Lesotho continues to battle a high new HIV infection rate, which currently stands at 20,000 infections per year. The country is also the world’s second most affected with a prevalence rate of 25 percent.
In an interview, the HIV Communications Officer in the Ministry of Health, Baroane Phenethi said the self-testing kit will help to boost HIV testing as people will now be able to test themselves at their own convenient time and place.
“This is going to ensure groups of people who were not comfortable to visit facilities for HIV testing can do it in their homes and have the opportunity to be the first ones to know of their status. As the Ministry of Health, we know that it is every person’s right to know their status and would like to continue introducing strategies that bolster our preventive and management efforts,” Mr Phenethi said.
The kit will be available to people above the age of 18 while those below will need the consent of their parents or guardians to access the kit.
“The same applies to mental patients, we will also need the consent of their families to provide the kit,” he said.
Mr Phenethi said the kit will contain education material in both English and Sesotho as well as a short video clip for instructions to guide the user. He further explained that if results come out positive, the user should visit the nearest heath centre for verification of the results. It is also important for negative results to also be confirmed, he emphasized.
“Once they are confirmed as positive, they will be immediately put on Antiretroviral treatment. In both negative and positive results, we encourage people to take HIV preventive measures to remain negative for those that are negative and to prevent other sexual transmitted infections for those that are positive,” Mr Phenethi said.
He explained confirmation of results after self-testing does not mean that the kit is unreliable, “Procedurally, confirmation is important to ensure that decisions to treat are made based on verified results and to also ensure we do not make any mistakes.”
The Ministry of Health will soon embark on an education campaign targeting health professionals in the districts to equip them with skills that will enable them to provide the new service. “We are not going to just provide the kits but also ensure that people also receive counselling to understand the importance of taking the follow-up necessary steps after they have tested themselves.”
Members of the public will also be sensitized for them to know about the kits and its benefits, among other HIV related awareness.