HIV-test kits given to women boost testing in men

Used STD tests await disposal
Copyright: Brian Sokol / Panos

Speed read

  • Researchers assessed whether giving women HIV self-test kits could aid testing
  • They found higher rate of HIV testing among partners of women receiving the kits
  • But an expert says the kits could lead to some users committing suicide

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Providing HIV self-test kits to women seeking care in healthcare facilities could promote HIV testing among couples and male partners, a study says.
According to researchers from Kenya and the United States, men in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to have lower rates of HIV testing than women.
Thus, the researchers determined whether providing HIV self-test to women aged 18 to 39 years old who visited antenatal and post-pregnancy clinics in Kisumu, Kenya between June 2015 and January 2016 could encourage their partners to test for HIV.

“There’s a greater potential for these tests to be used more widely in high prevalence countries.”

Harsha Thirumurthy, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


According to the study published in PLOS Medicine last month (8 November), after three months of follow-up of 600 women divided into two groups, with half receiving the kits, partner testing rate was found to be higher in those who received the kits. 90 per cent used the kits given compared to 52 per cent in the group who did not receive the kits. Similarly, the couple testing rate was 75 per cent for those who received the kits and 33 per cent for the other group.
Harsha Thirumurthy, the study’ corresponding author from the US-based University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that providing self-test kits to women could be significant in achieving high HIV testing rates in men who are often harder to reach through clinics or community-based strategies.
She notes that the price of HIV self-tests is evolving and is expected to decrease over time. “If that happens, there’s a greater potential for these tests to be used more widely in high prevalence countries,” Thirumurthy says.
Kawango Agot, a co-author and head of Kisumu-based Impact Research and Development Organisation, says that training women on the use of self-test kits and giving them multiple kits for their partners is cost-effective and thus easily replicable in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But Nelson Otuoma, executive director of the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, tells SciDev.Net that although self-tests could promote testing among people in need of anonymity, they can be counterproductive if given to those lacking the maturity or strength to handle the results.
“Some people can kill themselves if they test positive. At hospitals, people are usually prepared through guidance and counselling before and after the test,” says Otuoma. “The self-test kits also don’t offer complete privacy as eventually, people still need to disclose their status at a health facility before they can begin treatment.”

Otuoma adds that most people opt for self-tests because of the stigma associated with HIV. “So this is the problem that we need to address,” he explains.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.