The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized on Friday how knowing the HIV (humanimmuno deficiency virus) status of individuals and starting early treatment can help in its control and prevention in the 21st century.
“Early HIV diagnosis through different HIV testing approaches has become an important strategy for HIV prevention and control in the 21st century,” said Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
According to him, people diagnosed with HIV should be linked to care and treatment as early as possible to harness the benefits of antiretroviral treatment.
Standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of the combination of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease.
The United Nations and its partners have embarked on a fast-track strategy to end the HIV/AIDS (Acute Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic by 2030.
To reach this goal, it is vital to use the next five years as a window of opportunity to ensure that 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of people who know their status have access to treatment, and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.
HIV testing lies at the foundation of the region’s response to HIV, said Steve Kraus, UNAIDS Director for the Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.
Only if people know their status can we reach our global goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat in the region, he said.
To expand HIV testing, national HIV/AIDS and STI (sexually transmitted infection) managers from priority Asian and Pacific island countries and partners have agreed on diversified approaches to encourage testing at both formal and community-based services.
Hospitals, clinics and other health facilities need to offer more voluntary HIV testing and counselling during routine check-ups, including antenatal visits.
Voluntary testing of intimate partners of people living with HIV should also be included.
Many key populations are shying away from undergoing an initial HIV test at health facilities, but would agree to community-based testing which they find less stigmatizing. Community-based testing models include having one rapid HIV screening test done by a peer supporter in a familiar environment.
If the initial test result is positive, a follow-up confirmatory test in a health facility is indicated.
This approach has been pioneered in Cambodia, where entertainment workers and other key populations are offered tests at work or in other easy-access settings.
“We are promoting community peer testing. Bringing the facility close to the people is always the best,” said Dr. Ly Penh Sun, Director of National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (sexually transmitted disease), Cambodia.
HIV/AIDS program managers are committed to working with community groups to ensure community-based testing becomes a key component of HIV/AIDS and STI programs.
WHO said it will soon launch new guidelines on HIV testing services and has started a global social media campaign called #Test4HIV. The campaign will be promoted at the upcoming launch.
WHO is also encouraging everyone to include #Test4HIV on their Twitter and Facebook accounts to raise awareness of the importance and ease of availability of HIV testing services.
Across the Region, knowledge about HIV testing and counselling among key populations is low.
Key populations are at higher risk for HIV such as men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs.
Only one-third of the risk groups knew their HIV status in 2013. (PNA)SCS/LSJ/rsm