South Africa: Give HIV home-test kits to men who have sex with men, say researchers

Giving men who have sex with men (MSM) access to free self-screening HIV kits would increase testing among hard-to-reach groups and help South Africa reach its HIV targets. This is according to a new study published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ).

The study was done with MSM in the high HIV-prevalence districts of Gert Sibande and Ehlanzeni in Mpumalanga. 127 people were provided with their choice of blood or oral fluid self-screening HIV testing kits. Some 114 responded to follow-up interviews, three months and six months after receiving the tests. 49% said they would prefer to obtain the kits from community organisations; 43% from a clinic; and 8% from a pharmacy. The majority could not afford to buy the kits.

“Although the healthcare system in South Africa can be accessed through local clinics, clinic-based testing is often impractical for MSM, who face barriers and stigma related to public health services owing to their sexual orientation,” according to the study.

The government needs to consider other ways of getting people tested, for example via community based organisations or peer groups, wrote the researchers. They recommend that free or low cost self-testing HIV kits should be made available to MSM through community based initiatives.

According to the researchers no social harms were observed during the study. However, Dr Peter Barron, a public health expert, sounded a note of caution when talking to GroundUp. It’s a new intervention and needs more “rigorous checks and balances including whether it is cost-effective” he said.

“What will the full cost of the programme involved in the distribution of the HIV self-testing kits be, and how many new cases will be diagnosed? Without more work on this — with some decent data — it is premature to say it should be taken to scale; especially if funded by the state where there are multiple competing priorities. Health technology assessments where interventions are ranked, prioritised and compared is the best way to get value for money,” said Barron. Read more via Ground UP