Improving access to HIV self-testing in Africa

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Wednesday 3 September 2014
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Nearly 1 in every 20 adults in sub Saharan Africa is living with HIV. Many lack access to prevention, care, and treatment, and there is still no cure.

HIV self-testing is being explored as a way to encourage more individuals to test themselves in private. The Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT), a TrustLaw member working on HIV response in six African countries, recognised the massive potential for self-testing in the region.

"We felt that if there was some initiative or some method that would enable people to know their status without going through some of the formal channels, that this could actually contribute to increasing the uptake for HIV testing," Felicitas Chiganze, Chief Operating Officer of the SAT, explained to the Foundation from Johannesburg.

Self-testing has not been widely implemented, and in many countries it is unregulated and performed informally. SAT sought the help of lawyers to better understand the legal framework and human rights implications of self-testing.

Through TrustLaw, Arnold & Porter and nine other law firms conducted pro bono research for SAT in 10 countries: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the United States, France, England and Wales, and South Africa. The cross-border research will help SAT to possibilities to establish small pilot projects and advocate for law reform where existing laws do not efficiently facilitate self-testing.

“The legal research was prepared to help encourage governments in Southern Africa to explore the possibilities that HIV self-testing kits can offer in their fight against HIV,” said Catherine Young, Associate Solicitor at Arnold & Porter (UK)LLP, who worked on the project. “The recent policy changes in the US, the UK and France will, hopefully, help persuade other countries that this is a worthwhile avenue to consider.”

The research findings were presented at a Consultative Meeting on HIV Self-Testing held in Johannesburg in March 2014. As a result of the research and the meeting, SAT is now engaged in efforts to mobilise resources to implement pilot projects for the equitable and inclusive roll-out of HIV Self-Testing in some of its programme countries. Read more: http://www.trust.org/item/20140714104845-cgl3a/?source=jtOtherNews1b   

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This project has been nominated for the 2014 TrustLaw Collaboration Award. Learn more about the TrustLaw Awards.