By Hassan Zaggi
The Catholic Relief Services -Faith-based Action for Scaling up Testing and Treatment for the Epidemic Response (CRS FASTER) Project, has concluded plans to distribute 10,000 HIV self-test kits across Delta state free.
This is even as the group had already distributed about 100,000 HIV self-test kits in different states of the country.
The Project Director of CRS FASTER, Dr. Emeka Anoje, disclosed this at a virtual briefing yesterday.
According to him: “FASTER has distributed about 100,000 HIV self-test kits to support the HIV self-testing across Nigeria.
“The 10,000 test kits that FASTER has provided will be given out free of charge to everyone who takes it.
“It is focused on women and adolescence – pregnant women, especially those who will not have been reached by the conventional means of testing. It is free of charge, however, there are still discussions around pricing so that eventually the market-based approach will arrive at a price that is indeed affordable and that makes the product accessible to everyone who needs one.”
The group, however, revealed that data from a survey done by it indicated that over 80,000 children living with HIV/AIDS are yet to be identified across the country.
It therefore, called for more awareness and access to HIV self-testing kits, stressing that it has provided 100,000 test kits free of charge to pregnant women and adolescents, especially those who will not have been reached by the conventional means of testing.
The Project Director, however, explained that: “If you look at the burden of HIV being put against the population of 200 million in the country, what our survey has shown us is that there are still an estimated 80,000 children living with HIV who are yet to be found.
“We also do know from information from the different HIV treatment programs in Nigeria, an estimated 1.2 million persons are on antiretroviral therapy (ART), but what we also know is that there still remains a gap with respect to coverage for ART, which is hinged on the fact that HIV testing is still suboptimal, as quite a number of people are yet to know their HIV status.
“The onset of the covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria and the consequent movement restrictions on person to person interactions, as well as the financial and human resources burden it created particularly in the health sector, has posed yet another barrier to HIV testing in the country.
“It is very clear and instructive that some innovative approaches and strategies are required in order to increase the optics of HIV Testing Services in the country, especially when these strategies are designed in a way that they target populations who ordinarily have no access to HIV testing and who ordinarily are at a higher risk of contracting HIV. These could include children, adolescents, as well as other key populations.
“We believe that HIV self-testing approach provides an opportunity to help us as a country find the over 80,000 living with HIV who are yet to be found. HIV self-testing approaches allows an individual to collect his or her own specimen, typically an oral fluid, and then performs HIV testing in the comfort of their homes or anywhere, and then interprets the results either alone or with somebody that they trust. Thereafter they receive information on how to act on the outcome of the results – whether it be positive or negative.”