First HIV Self-Test Kits Launch in Liberia

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(L-r)--Dr. Julie Toomey-Garbo, NACP National Program Manager, DKT Liberia Country Manager, Antonio C. Turcott and Charles Lawrence, National Program Officer for Democracy and Human Rights at the Swedish Embassy in Liberia, among others displaying flyers and tool kits at the launch.

DKT-Liberia, a social marketing organization providing affordable and safe options for family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention, on Friday, March 19, launched the first HIV self-test kits in the country. The launched of the HIV self test kit was in collaboration with the Liberian government through the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP).  

In 2016, WHO published the first global guidelines on HIV self-testing, in which HIV self testing was recommended to be offered as an additional approach to HIV testing services.

The kits coined “OraQuick”, according to DKT-Liberia, will afford individuals the opportunity to carry out Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) tests in the comfort and privacy of their homes.

The testing process includes the collection of a person’s saliva or pinprick blood specimen. Individuals can perform the test, and receive the test result within 20 minutes.

DKT-Liberia’s Country Manager, Antonio Cazares Turcott, says that the HIV self-test kits in Liberia, will create an enabling environment for HIV testing for more people to know their status, and as well as prevent the spread of HIV. He also said that it is an opportunity for people who are affected by the virus to access life-saving treatment.

According to Turcott, the “OraQuick” kit is the first in-home oral HIV self-testing kit approved by the World Health Organization, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and has been registered in the Liberia Medicine and product Health Regulatory Authority.

“DKT is grateful to have this public-private partnership with the Ministry of Health and NACP to enable the environment to ensure access to HIV counseling testing and psycho-social support.  We have a common goal to keep improving Liberian’s health and we are committed to making this happen,” he said.

Turcott thanked the Embassy of Sweden and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation for trusting DKT International in supporting their mission to increase access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Also, Dr. Julie Toomey-Garbo, NACP National Program Manager, lauded DKT-Liberia for its innovation, stating that it would be difficult to access life saving treatment without one carrying out a test.

She also disclosed that the Joint United Nations Pogramme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate of 2020, shows that around 25, 489 people are living with HIV in Liberia. She added that 5, 800 of the 25, 489 are aware that they have the virus.

Dr. Garbo revealed that testing rates are low among men. As it is, accroding to Dr. Toomey-Garbo, men will not not benefit from any treatment.

Additionally, she said that the proportion of adolescents accessing HIV testing services remains low, particularly with youths 15-24 years been left to likely to be tested.

“It is therefore critical that we improve the treatment optic and reduce the number of undiagnosed cases of HIV.

To do this, we must expand deliveries option that has the potention to overcome current barriers of HIV testing, including stigma, discrimination and bridge of confidentiality,” she said.

Earlier, Charles Lawrence, the National Program Officer for Democracy and Human Rights at the Swedish Embassy in Liberia, said Sweden sees this development as highly welcoming.

Sweden, he said, believes that the HIV self-testing kit will expand the basket of tools available for Liberia to prevent and respond to the HIV pandemic.

He congratulated DKT International, NACP, Ministry of Health and the Liberia Medicine and Health Regulatory Authority (LMHRA) for the introduction of HIV self-testing kits in the country.

Mr. Lawrence further added that the HIV self-testing kits will be used in line with the Liberia National Guidelines for HIV testing and services as well as psycho-social support.

According to him, the availability of psycho-social counseling services for those that will use the kits is highly important component of the response.

He called on partners to increase support to orphans and vulnerable children and preventing mother-to-child transmission are areas were better community based information, education and communication can yield positive results when also complemented with adequate service provision.

“Sweden strongly believes that the human rights principles such as non-discrimination, tolerance, inclusion, participation and accountability are important in the prevention and response to HIV and AIDS,” he added.

The launching progrman of the kits was graced by several health workers from the 15 counties, representatives from the Ministry of Health, NACP staff and DKT-Liberia employees, respectively.

It was also dubbed by promotional messages by Ezy Pain and Future Doe, both Liberian comedians as well as the Zombie music by Trille featuring award winning star DenG.

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