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Scaling-up HIV testing is critical to end the AIDS epidemic

Scaling-up HIV testing is critical to end the AIDS epidemic in Asia-Pacific

HIV/AIDS programme managers and community groups join hands to strengthen
and expand HIV testing

MANILA, 02 July 2015 — Ten national HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection (STI) programmes, civil society and development partners in the Western Pacific Region have joined forces to ensure that everyone living with HIV knows their status and is able to access HIV treatment. This push for expanded HIV testing coverage came during a recent two-day meeting organized by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Manila, the Philippines.

Research has long shown that antiretroviral medicines reduce AIDS-related deaths and prevent HIV transmission. However, these benefits are only likely to occur if individuals know their HIV status and start treatment early. "Early HIV diagnosis through different HIV testing approaches has become an important strategy for HIV prevention and control in the 21st century," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Moreover, people diagnosed with HIV should be linked to care and start treatment as early as possible to harness the benefits of antiretroviral treatment.”

Across the Region, knowledge about HIV testing and counselling among key populations is low. Key populations are at higher risk for HIV. They include men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs. Only one-third of the risk groups knew their HIV status in 2013. The United Nations and partners have embarked on a fast- track strategy to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. To reach this goal it is vital to use the next five years as a window of opportunity to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV know their status, 90% of people who know their status have access to treatment, and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.

“HIV testing lies at the foundation of the region’s response to HIV,” said Mr Steve Kraus, UNAIDS Director for the Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. ”Only if people know their status can we reach our global goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat in the region.”

To expand HIV testing, national HIV/AIDS and STI managers from priority Asian and Pacific island countries and partners agreed on diversified approaches to encourage testing at both formal and community-based services. Hospitals, clinics and other health facilities need to offer more voluntary HIV testing and counselling during routine check-ups, including antenatal visits. Voluntary testing of intimate partners of people living with HIV should also be included.

Many key populations are shying away from undergoing an initial HIV test at health facilities, but would agree to community-based testing which they find less stigmatizing. Community-based testing models include having one rapid HIV screening test done by a peer supporter in a familiar environment. If the initial test result is positive, a follow up confirmatory test in a health facility is indicated. This approach has been pioneered in Cambodia, where entertainment workers and other key populations are offered tests at work or in other easy-access settings.

"We are promoting community peer testing. Bringing the facility close to the people is always the best", said Dr. Ly Penh Sun, Director of National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, Cambodia.

HIV/AIDS programme managers are committed to working with community groups to ensure community-based testing becomes a key component of HIV/AIDS and STI programmes.

WHO will soon launch new guidelines on HIV testing services and has started a global social media campaign called #Test4HIV. The campaign will be promoted at the upcoming launch.

WHO is encouraging everyone to include #Test4HIV on their Twitter and Facebook accounts to raise awareness of the importance and ease of availability of HIV testing services.

ENDS

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