.HIV

By Joseph Erunke, ABUJA

THE federal government, Tuesday, launched National HIV Self-Testing, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Communication Strategy.

The pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV self-testing (HIVST) strategies are approved tools in the national HIV combination prevention package, especially targeted at those with a substantial risk of HIV infection.

The acceptance and uptake of these strategies are critical to the national prevention agenda of the country, especially among the key and vulnerable population groups.

While launching the strategy in Abuja, the Director-General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, Dr Gambo Aliyu, tasked people to embrace HIV self-testing as according to him, it

“affords people the capacity to know their HIV status right within the comfort and privacy of their space. “

He recalled that:”In 2016, the World Health Organisation, WHO published the guidelines on HIV self-testing and partner notification services as a supplement to the consolidated guidelines on HIV testing services, while Nigeria adapted and developed her first operational guidelines for the implementation of HIVST in 2018.”

” In other to achieve the national target of reducing new HIV infections by 90% in 2025 in the country, we acknowledge the need to scale up access to testing and PrEP interventions in the country. The cumulative number of people who have initiated PrEP in Nigeria stands at 173,000 – 174,000 (PrEP Watch 2022).

“We know that HIV self-testing affords people the capacity to know their HIV status right within the comfort and privacy of their space.

“Access to HIVST has also been shown to deepen awareness of HIV infection risk, especially amongst those with elevated risks or inhibitions/structural barriers to access HIV tests from the facilities.

“For example key populations, adolescents, young persons and men. However, we should not fail to emphasize the fact any reactive HIV result from self-testing must be confirmed by the national HIV testing algorithm,” he said.

Dr Aliyu explained that the National

HIV Self-Testing, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Communication Strategy “is designed to facilitate the effective communication of the HIVST and PrEP interventions available in the national response, by public health experts, health care workers, community groups and workers with targeted audiences for HIV prevention in Nigeria. “

He explained that,”The document was collaboratively developed in partnership with all relevant stakeholders which includes government, development partners, Key populations, adolescent groups, NGOs, health care workers, academics. “

“It elaborates the communication action plan that will promote the uptake of HIVST and PrEP interventions for the prevention of new infections and reduction of the burden of HIV among individuals and groups particularly at high risk of acquiring the virus. It will address the challenges of low level of awareness, demand, and uptake of the HIVST and PrEP services. 

“Furthermore, the Strategy aligns with the national objectives and guidelines for HIV prevention as well as identifies the main barriers to the uptake of HIVST and PrEP services in Nigeria. It showcases how social and behaviour change communication can help address these barriers among high-risk and general populations. It will help in the design of appropriate HIVST and PrEP communication plans and activities,” he further said.

According to him, if effectively and efficiently deployed, the strategy will improve demand creation for the uptake of HIVST and PrEP amongst appropriate and desired population groups.

”  I have no hesitation in recommending its use to all relevant stakeholders and partners,” he said.

The development of the National HIV Self-Testing and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Communication Strategy was supported with funds from USAID and PEPFAR through the Key Populations Care-1 Project implemented by Heartland Alliance and John Snow Inc.

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