File picture: Esteban Felix/AP
Cape Town – Do-it-yourself HIV/Aids testing kits will soon be sold at a pharmacy near you, according to the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC) Register and chief executive officer Amos Masango.

He said the initial ban on the HIV self-testing kits has officially been lifted after the council last month gazetted draft legislation that seeks to bind pharmacists to tell customers that if they tested positive at home, they should have a second HIV test for confirmation.

“The pharmacist must make sure that the customer is able to interpret the results of the test, while also remembering that the results are not conclusive because they would still need to go to a medical practitioner to confirm the results.”

He said the draft legislation, which is currently open for public comment, also enforces a rule that pharmacies only sell tests which have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“This is most certainly a step in the right direction.

“We do not have enough health care facilities and we do not have enough resources.

“So for people to be able to buy an HIV self-testing kit at their pharmacy takes some strain off of our overburdened health care system.

“We have pharmacies all over the country and they are easily accessible,” senior programmes manager at the Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at Wits, Michelle Moorhouse said.

She said the sale of the HIV self-testing kits at pharmacies was “a very good thing and long overdue”.

“We have tough targets to meet in terms of HIV (and) with an epidemic the size of ours, where we currently have about 3.4 million people on treatment in SA, and around 7 million infected, it would be challenging to reach that first 90 with testing being only available within health care facilities.

“This makes it difficult for some people to access HIV testing as facilities are not open 24/7, seven days a week, making it inaccessible to many, including men, adolescents and youth who are the very people who are not being diagnosed, and so not getting on to treatment.

“Some people would also simply prefer to test in their own space and in their own time and self-testing allows this.”

Moorhouse said a positive result would not necessarily trigger suicidal behaviour.

“This was a concern when self-testing was first conceptualised, but large studies which monitored closely for social harms and set up helplines, found that this really has not been the case. There were similar concerns when over-the-counter pregnancy tests were first introduced aeons ago. It is an overly paternalistic approach and modern medicine isn’t about that paternalism of old. Self-testing is empowering and studies done so far have demonstrated it is safe.”

She echoed Masango’s sentiments: “Very importantly though, if someone tests positive with a self-test, they should have this result confirmed at a clinic or their GP”.

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Cape Argus