PARIS –The UNITAID-led HIV Self-Testing Africa consortium will expand the reach of its project from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabswe to include South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland leaders of the effort announced here Monday.
That means the distribution of 4.8 million more tests, nearly half of which will go to South Africa. A UNITAID investment of $50 million makes the expansion possible, UNITAID Director Lelio Mamora said. An additional investment of $20 million is planned for West African countries.
The initial investment of $23 million that launched the STAR project led not only to distribution of tests in the first three countries but generated data for World Health Organization HIV self-testing guidelines.
“Preliminary results from STAR indicate that self–tests are helping to close knowledge of status gaps for groups that have traditionally been hard to reach with other testing services, particularly young people and men,” STAR Initiative Director Karin Hatzold.
This announcement come on the heels of an agreement between The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and OraSure Technologies that has the Foundation subsidizing the cost of the OraQuick tests in 50 countries in Africa and Asia.
OraQuick is the first HIV rapid diagnostic test prequalified by WHO and allows an individual using an oral swab to get a result in about 20 minutes. The company plans to maintain the price agreement in the 50 countries at approximately two dollars per test after the four year agreement with the Gates Foundation, Orasure CEO Doug Michaels, said.
Country surveys have found that young South Africans don’t even know where to get tests, Yogan Pillay, the Deputy Director- General of Health for South Africa said. The tests will be used in circumcision programs, will be useful to frequent testers and lead to knowledge of HIV infection much earlier in disease progression, he said.
The effort, Population Services International President Karl Hoffmann said, supports the aim of “putting more health care decisions in the hands of consumers at their doorsteps.”