HIV home test kits for MSM might encourage testing in SA’s rural communities

Researchers are looking into giving men, who have sex with men (MSM), access to free self-screening HIV kits with the hopes that doing so will help increase testing among hard-to-reach groups in South Africa.

In a recent study published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ), MSM in the high HIV-prevalence districts of Gert Sibande and Ehlanzeni in Mpumalanga were provided with the choice of blood or oral fluid self-screening HIV testing kits.

A total of 114 of the 127 provided with the kits responded to follow-up interviews that took place three months and six months after receiving the tests.

The results of the study showed 49% said they would prefer to obtain the kits from community organisations; 43% from a clinic; and 8% from a pharmacy. 

Noting, that 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,” says the study.

Researchers recommend that free or low cost self-testing HIV kits be made available to MSM through community based initiatives, after noting that the government needs to consider alternative ways of getting people tested.

Lead author, Dr Oscar Radebe said that making the kits available would be cost effective.

“If you distribute a 1,000 a month and get approximately 30 positives, these are likely be people who do not necessarily go for HIV testing at clinics or at private doctors, or have never done a HIV test, but still have a high risk for infection,” says Dr Radebe, who is with the Anova Health Institute in Johannesburg and the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, at the University of California, San Francisco.

Those who have high infection rates often struggle or have difficult experiences when getting tested at clinics. The SAMJ study says that research suggests that increased coverage of clinic-based testing services is insufficient to encourage many people to go for tests, and start treatment.