Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1330 EAT on Saturday 4th March 2023.
A new HIV/Aids self-testing kit piloted recently among seven universities in Uganda and found to be effective is to be distributed on a massive scale to the rest of the population, ministry of Health has said.
Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, says that the test kit dubbed “Check Now” was developed by global medical device company, Abbott and tested for effectiveness by the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).
She says that the kit is recommended for use as a screening tool not just for young people, but other groups, which are more at risk of HIV infection compared to the rest of the population.
“The pilot has been run in seven universities among university students. Right now what is available is the donation, and there will be negotiating the price with Abbott, and then subsequently our partners like the global fund and PEPFAR will procure it for use in Uganda. That is not to say that we cannot use it now. Like I said, we have some still in the country and will be distributing it for use to anyone who needs it,” she said.
The immediate target is to initially have 30,000 young people tested as this group is a critical segment considering the fact that prevalence among young people especially adolescents and young women is higher than the 5 per cent national average.
“The self-test kit is distributed by peers. By peer, I mean someone who already knows his or her HIV status and is willing to support the person who is testing. So the peers counsel whoever they meet and then introduce the kit. So by the time they test, they are already counselled by the peers, and the peers support them to access treatment immediately after the test. For the pilot, the higher institutions of learning are easier to access – number one, because we access students in large numbers. Number two, they reach out to very many of their peers at the same time. However subsequently when we have the products in large quantities in the country, we’ll also encourage other peers in the community to also distribute door to door,” added Aceng.
Dr Joshua Musinguzi, programme manager of the AIDS Control Programme, says that they still have in stock donated test kits, which they will continue to distribute in a pilot mode until the country secures enough products to reach other members of the public.
However, it’s not yet clear when the product will be available for everyone as Aceng says they are banking on donors like Global Fund or the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to procure it for use in Uganda after negotiations with Abbott on the prices. Other similar kits on the market cost between Shs 3,000 and Shs 8,000 each.
Asked about their distribution plan, Bassem Bibi, Abbott’s divisional president for the Middle East and Africa, said that they hope to distribute both to the government and the private sector though they haven’t yet established how much a kit will cost on the general market.
While Abbott is targeting to sell the kit globally, Uganda is among the first four countries to launch it together with South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Uganda has in addition to blood-based self-test kits had oral swab tests.
Aceng says evaluation data on oral swabs are not yet released by the virus research institute. So far, data from the ministry of Health shows over 90 per cent of adult Ugandans know their HIV status.