RAHEEMAH AROGUNDADE, in this feature, discusses the simplicity and confidentiality of the new test kit for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is one of the widespread diseases that have resulted in high mortality rate in the world. Since discovery in 1983, about 75m people have been infected globally, with about 32m deaths, according to the World Health Organisation reports.
As at the end of 2018, 21 per cent of the world’s population did not know their status and about 37.9m people were recorded to be living with HIV globally. Of these, 36.2m were adults, while 1.7m were children.
A global epidemic
HIV has become one of the most challenging public health issues in the world. The burden and scope of the ‘global epidemic’ varies considerably according to regions and countries, but WHO reports that a larger percentage of infected people are found in Africa, with nearly one in every 25 adults (3.9 per cent) living with HIV and accounting for more than two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide. However, reports show that a vast majority of HIV patients are located in low and middle income countries with an estimated 68 per cent living in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS reports that about 1.9m people are living with HIV in Nigeria. Sadly, Nigeria happens to be the second country in the world to record the highest number of the epidemic. As at 2019, results from UNAIDS showed that Nigeria had a 1.4 per cent HIV prevalence, which is considerably an improvement when compared to the previous estimate of 2.8 per cent.
Speaking in Abuja last year, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari noted that fewer people were living with the virus in the country, indicating that Africa’s most populous country made significant progress in the fight against the spread of HIV.
“For the first time, the end of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome as a public health threat by 2030 is truly in sight for our country. I urge us all not to relent but to increase the momentum. Let us work collectively and push for the last mile,” he said.
In the last couple of years, a lot of energy has been channelled into creating awareness about HIV; people are encouraged to go for tests, so their status could be determined much earlier and for Anti-Retroviral Therapy to begin, where applicable. Organisations, local and international, have established free test centres in every country to facilitate early detection.
The ART protects infected people from illness and prevents further transmission of the disease to others. Early diagnosis of HIV should be combined with improved prevention, treatment and care. Sadly, people who test positive to the virus always face stigma in their immediate communities, hence the reluctance to disclose their status. Even after diagnosis, some patients would prefer to ignore the reality of their ill-health. Rather than go to the hospital for treatment, they would prefer to live with the illness, knowing well that if people around them got to know, their relationship with them might be affected.
The commitment of international organisations, country-specific government, non-governmental organisations and other health bodies to prevent new HIV infections and ensure that infected patients get access to treatment is visible. Provisions have been made for test centres where people can check their status at relatively no cost. A lot of awareness programmes have been organised, targeting every segment of the population to educate them about the disease, to avoid stigmatisation.
HIV drugs are also made relatively affordable to encourage early treatment and reduce mortality rate. However, before treatment can commence, screening is essential first step to take. HIV screening is therefore a gateway to prevention, treatment, care and support services. With the prevalence of the HIV and the efforts being made to curb the spread as well as treat infected patients, greater percentage of the Nigerian population are still ignorant of their status. Efforts are still being geared towards the availability of recommended test centres and counselling sites.
However, a significant milestone has just been reached. Nigeria’s Ministry of Health, through the National AIDS and STDs Control Programme, confirmed the efficiency of a new HIV self-test kit for use in Nigeria after recognising its ability to identify and detect HIV antibodies with a 98.4 per cent specificity and sensitivity.
NASCP was instituted to complement efforts by the ministry of health towards the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The product ambassador, Dr. Godwin Emmanuel, in a statement on Tuesday, November 19, gave a report on the OraQuick HIV self-test launch. According to him, the new HIV self-test kit known as OraQuick is certified by WHO, the United States Food and Drug Administration and Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. He noted that the kit was being used in over 50 countries.
His words, “As part of measures to promote HIV self-testing by the ministry, OraQuick HIV self-test kit was recently evaluated by the Federal Ministry of Health across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. This is in line with national guidelines to assess the efficacy of the test kits for use in Nigeria. The evaluation showed 98.4 per cent specificity and sensitivity to detect HIV antibodies I and II among Nigerians.
“This, therefore, affirms greater confidentiality and privacy from individuals who will purchase the easy-to-use, pocket-friendly diagnostic kit from a designated outlet. The self-run test can be done in the privacy of one’s home or other desired locations, without the knowledge of anyone.”
The 95-95-95 goal
Emmanuel agreed that a lot of people living with HIV in Nigeria were not aware of their status and that the country still had a long way to go as regards meeting the recommended number of HIV testing centres and counselling sites needed. He added that the HIV self-test had been identified as one that would contribute to the attainment of the UNAIDS global 95-95-95 goals. This implies that 95 per cent of people living with HIV should know their status, 95 per cent of people who know their status should access treatment, and 95 per cent of people on treatment should achieve suppressed viral loads.
The OraQuick self-test kit affords people the confidentiality needed to carry out the test, especially if they are anxious about going to a hospital or a public test centres.
For the test, no blood is required. One only needs to put saliva on the palette and in a matter of minutes, the person’s status becomes visible. The result of the test is guaranteed, as it is being used in other countries in the world. It is relatively easy and simple to use and has been designed to be affordable to everyone regardless of social class.
OraQuick self-test kit is undoubtedly a welcome development and a tell-tale of the efforts to combat the HIV epidemic.