Pretoria - In a move to make it easier for people to detect their HIV status and to act on it as soon as possible if the results are positive, several pharmacies across the country are now offering self-screening kits.
In a collaborative effort aimed at combating the spread of HIV and promoting community health, independent community pharmacies across South Africa have united to launch an innovative HIV awareness and testing campaign.
This initiative, driven by the Independent Community Pharmacy Association of South Africa and in collaboration with Population Services International South Africa, aims to amplify awareness about the importance of HIV testing and testing as a routine while ensuring its accessibility to all South Africans.
About 400 local community pharmacies across the country, many of them in Gauteng, which are affiliated with the Independent Community Pharmacy Association of South Africa are actively participating in this campaign by offering HIV self-screening testing kits at a cost of R50 or less.
This affordability ensures that people from all walks of life can easily determine their own HIV status, eliminating traditional cost barriers and allowing complete confidentiality.
The advantages of routine HIV testing are multifaceted, delivering benefits both at individual and societal levels, the pharmacy association said.
One of the advantages is early detection and treatment. Routine HIV testing facilitates early virus detection, enabling individuals to access prompt antiretroviral therapy.
Early treatment halts disease progression, bolsters the immune system, and extends life expectancy, the association said.
It added that regular HIV testing permits timely medical intervention, resulting in better health outcomes by reducing the risk of opportunistic infections and complications associated with advanced HIV disease.
Another advantage is the prevention of transmission.
“Awareness of one’s HIV status is incredibly empowering. It allows individuals to start antiretroviral therapy immediately.
“The new combinations available today can suppress the viral load in a matter of a few months to undetectable levels, and undetectable means non-transmissible.”
The association added that routine testing also allows individuals to adopt safer sexual practices, use condoms, and openly discuss their HIV status with partners. Both contribute to the reduction of HIV transmission within communities.
It said routine testing encourages positive behavioural changes, such as safer sexual practices and substance use, thereby lowering the risk of HIV acquisition or transmission.
Another advantage of early detection and treatment is that it reduces overall health-care costs associated with HIV, preventing advanced disease stages that necessitate costly hospitalisation and complex interventions.
Knowing one’s HIV status also brings peace of mind, reducing health-related anxiety and uncertainty, and empowering informed decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health, the pharmacy association said.
“Routine HIV testing plays a pivotal role in achieving public health objectives aimed at ending the HIV epidemic.”
HIV routine testing is just as vital as other routine health screenings, such as blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, as well as sexual reproductive health assessments.
Offering HIV testing as an integral component of an integrated care model ensures that individuals have a comprehensive understanding of their overall health.
This approach not only promotes early detection and timely intervention, but also reduces the stigma around HIV testing, making it a routine and normalised part of health care, the association said.
It added that routine self-testing for HIV infection is a critical part in the battle against HIV/Aids, offering a myriad benefits, which include early detection, improved health outcomes, reduced transmission, reduced stigma, and cost savings.
“Encouraging regular HIV testing as part of routine health care can significantly enhance individual and public health.”
The association said pharmacists are readily available to provide information and support before, during, and after the test, ensuring that individuals have the necessary resources to make informed decisions about their health.