Could this test be a game changer for HIV in Africa?

Evedyn Abrey explains to a client how the OraQuick Advance HIV test works.

Only 54% of HIV-infected people know they carry the virus Image: REUTERS/John Gress

Arwen Armbrecht
Writer and social media producer, Freelance
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UNAIDS, the United Nations branch dedicated to fighting HIV, has set a goal that by 2030, 90% of those infected with HIV will know they carry the virus. That will be a tall order: it's estimated that only 54% of those infected with the virus are aware of it.

One of the major reasons awareness remains so low is the manner in which HIV is tested. Conventional HIV tests are based on blood work and require a visit to a specialized clinic. Additionally, wait times for results can range anywhere from an hour to as long as two weeks.

While this may not be a problem for those living in the West or large cities, it poses numerous challenges for those living in countries with few facilities and where they face the risk of being stereotyped.

That's why a new HIV test, the OraQuick test, could be a game changer. It's already been approved by United States' Food and Drug Administration, and will allow people to test themselves at home and get their results within an hour.

The kit is currently being sold at $60 in the US, but a recent effort by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust and College of Medicine has brought it to Malawi, free of charge.

Malawi is a prime example of the challenge Africa faces in winning the fight against HIV. Facilities can be difficult to reach and the stigma that comes with being tested for HIV has also kept people from admitting they might be at risk. So far, the project has tested 8,000 people in Malawi.

Africa continues to be the region most affected by the virus. In fact, 70% of all new HIV cases worldwide are in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 24.7 million people living with the disease.

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