According to the STAR Initiative, HIVST will become more popular in India

HIV self-testing (HIVST) is advocated by the WHO as a crucial strategy to decrease HIV diagnosis gaps, particularly among critical populations (sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons other closed settings). Although 52 nations are consistently adopting HIVST and 98 countries have supportive policies in place, many more have not yet made HIVST a standard practice.

HIVST is accepted by important groups and their partners in India, according to a report released at a major event held in New Delhi last year. PATH oversaw the execution of the HIVST initiative in India as part of the STAR Initiative, which was sponsored by Unitaid.50 districts in 14 States received 93 380 HIVST kits between September 2021 and June 2022. Five alternative service delivery models, including community-based, private practitioner, community pharmacy, workplace, and virtual models, were used to distribute these kits, which came in blood-based and oral-fluid-based varieties. Communities found HIVST to be practical and simple to use, and the intervention was implementable and successful in detecting HIV infections that had gone undetected.

For people who would not otherwise test for HIV, HIVST has helped several countries make testing accessible. Moreover, HIVST can increase demand for prevention services and streamline the provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis services (PrEP). Guidance for other disease areas, such as hepatitis C self-testing and COVID-19 self-testing, has been influenced by the evidence and experiences from the implementation of HIVST.

Communities in India have shown a strong desire to continue having access to HIV self-testing as an extra option and after the STAR Project ends. Key populations and HIV-positive communities actively participated in the study’s implementation. Communities are tremendously interested in this technology and want that it remain available in the nation, according to Ms. Selvi Shanmugam, chair of the STAR Project’s Community Advisory Council.

Through the project’s design and implementation, WHO offered technical support at three levels (headquarters, regional, and country offices). “To ensure that evidence gained translates into policy development and execution, a systematic strategy has been developed. It is time to scale up this service in India because the country has substantial experience with HIVST, according to Dr. Po-Lin Chan, Team Lead Communicable Diseases, WHO India Country Office.

India is one of the nations that still lacks a national HIVST policy. The nation intends to introduce HIVST as an HIV testing strategy among important populations and their partners in light of the good results and experiences of the STAR Project. “NACO has been at the forefront since the inception of the STAR Initiative and has provided strategic leadership throughout the design and implementation.

Communities have been at the centre of coordination, implementation and monitoring of this initiative. The STAR Initiative has generated critical local evidence and we are considering national policy development and implementation in the light of this evidence,” noted Dr Shobini Rajan, Deputy Director General, National AIDS Control Organization, India. It is time now to move from evidence to implementation.

More about HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. HIV can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. HIV is primarily spread through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner, sharing needles or syringes with an infected person, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

Early symptoms of HIV infection may include fever, fatigue, sore throat, rash, and swollen lymph nodes, but some people may not experience any symptoms at all. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a condition where the immune system is severely damaged and the body is susceptible to life-threatening infections and cancers.

While there is currently no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a treatment that can effectively suppress the virus and prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS. Additionally, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV in people who are at high risk of infection. It’s important to get tested for HIV regularly and practice safe sex and needle use to prevent the spread of HIV.

More about HIVST

HIVST (HIV self-testing) is a process where a person collects their own blood or oral fluid sample and performs an HIV test in a private setting, such as their own home. HIVST kits are typically available as either oral fluid or blood-based tests, and they can provide rapid results within minutes. HIVST can be a useful tool in increasing access to HIV testing, particularly for individuals who may face barriers to accessing traditional healthcare settings. HIVST can help reduce stigma and promote confidentiality, allowing people to test for HIV in the privacy of their own homes.

However, it’s important to note that HIVST is not 100% accurate, and false positive and false negative results can occur. It’s essential to follow the instructions for the test carefully and to seek confirmatory testing at a healthcare facility if there is a positive result. Additionally, HIVST does not provide the same level of support and counseling that is available in traditional healthcare settings, so individuals who test positive for HIV should seek care from a healthcare provider to receive appropriate treatment and support. Overall, HIVST can be a useful tool in increasing access to HIV testing, but it’s important to remember that confirmatory testing and support from healthcare providers are essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

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