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By Sipokazi Maposa
The national health department and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) have added their voices to condemning the use of HIV home testing kits, saying they are risky to use at home and their accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
This follows a warning from the SA Medical Association (Sama), which cautioned that home testing for HIV could leave people devastated.
Sama chairman Norman Mabasa discouraged people from using the kits, urging them to rather get free HIV tests at public health institutions. These came with essential pre- and post-test counselling, he said.
"Let us not create a situation where we wait for disaster to happen by encouraging potentially risky practices where people discover their HIV status at home unmonitored," Mabasa added.
TAC general secretary Vuyiseka Dubula warned against the use of the kits. Suicides could result if people tested at home and got a positive result.
"If they are out there, we encourage people not to utilise them. When doing an HIV test it's very important to know why you are doing it, and to have a proper support system.
"The fact is there are a lot of emotions involved, and if there is no proper support system some people may end up committing suicide," she warned.
Dubula also questioned the accuracy of home testing kits, saying there was no confirmation.
"All HIV tests must be confirmed. The worry with self-testing is that it's not always possible to confirm the results. Some people may not be able to afford to buy a second kit to confirm their results," she said, urging people to get free tests at public health facilities.
Mabasa said rapid HIV testing was important in facilitating the diagnosis of HIV infection, but that it was vital that this was conducted in an ethical manner that included pre- and post-test counselling.
Mabasa said he had heard from pharmacies in the country selling the kits that many people feared being recognised by relatives and colleagues at health facilities, so opted for home testing instead.
"While rapid testing may assist in facilitating the diagnosis of HIV infection, improving HIV testing capabilities in facilities without access to laboratories, the tests have important implications for the individual, especially in respect of HIV counselling procedures," he said.
There was also the danger of misinterpretation of the results of the home test kit.
"The danger of tragic incidents happening once people are encouraged to conduct home testing cannot be excluded. Similarly, if a person goes for counselling before they do their own test they might well be assisted in doing the test," Mabasa said.
The national health department also discouraged people from using the kits.
Spokesman Fidel Hadebe that people should rather get tested free at health facilities.
Professor Peter Eagles, chairman of the Medical Control Council, said while the council had not endorsed the use of the product in the country, because it was a medical device and not medicine, he still urged people who used these kits to do so "carefully".
The council is responsible only for the registration of medicines.
Eagles said consumers needed to ensure the product was of a good quality, and registered in its country of origin.
"There is a risk that if the product is not good quality, it could produce incorrect results," he said.
He added that the council encouraged importers of the kits to always consult with the SABS to check that the products met acceptable standards.