The World Health Organisation (WHO) has for the first time recommended HIV self-testing in the privacy of one's home with an HIV kit, a move that may result in a breakthrough in HIV treatment by improving access to diagnosis.
Though India now does not allow HIV self-testing, the UN agency's guidance has prompted the Union health ministry here to evaluate the proposal, reports The Times of India.
"We will certainly look at WHO's recommendations and evaluate how they can be adopted," said C K Mishra, secretary to the health ministry.
Lack of HIV diagnosis is a major obstacle to reducing the burden of the infection worldwide because it hinders the government and public health agencies from offering anti-retroviral therapy or other treatment options to those suffering from the disease.
Estimates say around 87 per cent of HIV-infected people in India are not even aware that they are suffering from the disease and may be unknowingly spreading the virus. Globally, around 40 per cent of all people with HIV or over 14 million remain unaware of their status.
Self-testing will be particularly relevant for those who find it difficult to access testing in clinical settings and might prefer self-testing.
The HIV self-test can be done by individuals by using oral fluid or blood finger-pricks in a private and convenient setting. Results of the tests can be seen within 20 minutes or less.
Those with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics. WHO recommends they receive information and links to counselling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services.
A senior WHO official said India may initially adopt the UN agency's suggestions for self-testing among high risk communities where the incidence and chances of spread is higher. "Millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment, which can also prevent HIV transmission to others," said Dr Margaret Chan, director-general, WHO. "HIV self-testing should open the door for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services."
Estimates by the National Aids Control Organization, which works under the ministry of health and family welfare, show over 2.2 crore people were tested in India during 2013-14, of which 2,40,234 people were found HIV positive. In 2015, the total number of people living with HIV in India was estimated at 21.17 lakh, whereas 86,000 new cases were found.
Though the incidence of HIV in India has declined substantially since 2000 by around 66 per cent, lack of accessibility to testing and the stigma attached to HIV poses a challenge for uptake of HIV diagnosis.