An Evaluation Finds Low Uptake Of HIV Self-Testing Kits In Uganda

Know it Check Now: Testing for HIV is a critical public health intervention because it is the first step toward treatment and care. PHOTO URN

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | An evaluation exercise has found that quite a few Ugandans have accessed and used the free HIV self-testing kits offered by the government.

The test kits dubbed “Check Now” were introduced by the Ministry of Health as part of the wider HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention efforts.

Testing for HIV is a critical public health intervention because it is the first step toward treatment and care. With current antiretroviral treatment, people who test positive can expect to live a healthy life with HIV without passing it on to anyone else.

The Ministry of Health through the National Medical Stores had released over 1.2 million oral self-test kits through the health facilities. However, findings of an evaluation exercise announced on Friday indicate that about eleven thousand five hundred thousand kits had been accessed and put to use between January 2021 and May 2022.

Dr.  Joseph Matovu who was the Principal Investigator is now advising the Ministry of Health and concerned persons to change the mode of distribution of the kits if more Ugandans are to access and use them. He said the current method of having the kits placed at health facilities is not working as expected.

The evaluation found that only 7% of the 115000 kits were given to given to young people aged 18 and below. The smallest number of kits went to those below 17 years of age, which scientists say is concerning because a lot of new infections are being picked from this age group.

Researchers sampled 47 health facilities picked randomly from across the four regions of the country. The highest number of people who picked these kits were from Kampala and results show that all of those that picked used them.

One hundred and seventy users tested positive for the virus while using the kit and 131 of them went back to the health facility for a confirmatory test as is required by testing the guidelines. The majority who took the kits were aged between 29 and 39.

Researchers say while these  kits are available throughout the country from general hospitals to Health Center IIIs, supply is still low and the pick-up locations were found not to be comfortable for everyone.

The researchers now recommend places of pick-up be diversified suggesting already tested models such as the peer-to-peer approach where one can pick kits from their colleagues or sexual partners without having to visit the facilities themselves. They also suggest having kits at workplaces such that one can test at their convenience.

Joy Wako, a member of parliament representing the elderly noted that while more HIV treatment and prevention efforts are being focused on the young people, the elderly need such services too.

The evaluation study shows, that only paltry test kits went to those aged above 49 years, she said the highest need is among the aging because they are stigmatized to seek such services for fear of being judged on the basis of age.

However, when these study results were put to Dr. Alfred Mubangizi, the Assistant Commissioner of Community Health in the Ministry of Health, he said more than anything, results point to poor health literacy. For him, once awareness is increased more people will be able to use innovations such as self-test kits.

Meanwhile, oral kits that utilize a sample picked from the mouth in the gum area are more than 90% accurate in testing.

This evaluation study further confirms the kit’s accuracy as 92% and that the 131 people who tested positive for the virus using the kits HIV-positive confirmed the results when they sought confirmatory tests.



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