EYEAFRICA TV: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Tanzanian parliament’s recent constitutional amendments designed to allow HIV/AIDS self-testing and lowering the age of HIV testing without parental consent to 15 years mark a big milestone in the fight against the disease.
The bill allows its citizens to buy HIV test kits at pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. Medical experts say the move can help the country meet the 90-90-90 goals, an ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic.
It states that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
“This will increase the penetration in the number of people who avail themselves for testing for the HIV virus,” said Omar Sherman, head of pathology in Aga Khan Hospital.
Statistics from the Health Ministry show that new infections on youth aged 15 to 19 are high, about 65,000 yearly and out of them 80 percent are girls and only 20 percent are boys.
Tanzania has over 1.4 million people living with HIV while only 62 percent of the population know their status. Now the government hopes that with this new testing method that number could increase up to 90 percent.
Before the bill, testing was only done in labs, using rapid tests and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
The new tests have not been made available yet but doctors say users have to know that the virus also has an incubation period, meaning it’s important to take the test every three months.
“With certain tests, you might have contracted the disease five days ago and the fact that your result is negative does not necessarily mean that you are HIV negative,” said Sherman.
The new law will allow 15 years old children to undergo HIV/AIDS self testing, but insists the process should be voluntary. It also requires a person assisting another one to undertake HIV self-testing to comply with principles of confidentiality.
Young people currently account for 40 percent of new infections. It’s hoped that the nation can use this testing method to save the lives of its youth who account for 65 percent of its population.
It is estimated that over 3,000 patients died in sub-Saharan Africa on a daily basis due to HIV in 2015. Ten countries in Africa carry 80 percent of the total HIV burden. They are South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.