Chukua Selfie: Targeting men to squeeze HIV’s burden closer to zero

HIV self-test kits are available at pharmacies across the country. Let's go and get tested as we celebrate positive strides made toward the fight against HIV and AIDS in Kenya and beyond. [Courtesy]

While the world is shifting significant energy and resources into fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the threat of HIV still remains. Today, being the international world AIDS day with a theme - End inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics; it is important to remind ourselves that when a new pandemic comes it may not take away the severity of the existing pandemic nor does it prevent other pandemics from pushing their way into the world.

Kenya's population-based HIV impact assessment revealed that Kenya had a prevalence of 4.9 per cent in 2018. Please remember that these figures represent people within our borders and we are all called to be in our physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual touch of this realism. We are all in this together!

While the Kenya National AIDS and STI Control Programme in 2020 confirmed the fact on the ground remains that women aged 20-34 are three times more likely to be infected and affected by HIV and AIDS than men, today we take a significant pie of the drive to enjoin men in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Yes, this will contribute towards ending inequalities in the fight.

In Africa, if men are well empowered they will positively utilise their masculinity to fight the HIV pandemic. As I said earlier, let's all sit at the same table and fight the pandemic in equitable measures.

The global target of ending AIDS by 2030 may be missed if the male gender is not empowered to realise its critical role in fighting the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

We acknowledge that we are not at ground zero because a lot has been done in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Kenya. As a way of Example HIV prevalence that was 10.1 per cent in 1996 reduced to 4.2 per cent in 2020 as per the World Bank’s statistics.

HIV self-test kits have been around for some time now and experiences from U-Tena Youth Organization indicate that its efficacy is beyond 95 per cent. The recent campaign of Chukua Selfie that is spearheaded by Population Services Kenya and implemented by the U-Tena youth organization in several parts of Nairobi has proved that men can develop an interest in knowing their status if HIV self-test kits are availed to them. 

The courage of men to visit a health facility to acquire the test has always been affiliated with a high chance of being infected. The majority of men visiting health facilities mostly go for other diseases and not basically HIV testing. Doctors recommending a comprehensive test is what leads others to be in that frontier. 

There has been a lot of misconception about HIV that has led a large number of young men to avoid the service. With the implementation of the distribution of HIV self-test that commenced in November 2019 by Population Service Kenya and U-Tena Youth Organization, the reception has been encouraging. Mostly targeting men aged 20-34 years, who basically tend to visit health facilities when their health is compromised to an extent of them not being able to conduct daily duties. 

From the community insights, the majority of the men tend to rely on the results of their partners as verification for them to be well. There is still a stigma on the HIV pandemic. With regards to health service providers coming from within the community, the aspects of men meeting them in the testing room is another setback.

Coming across people from different walks of life made U-Tena team handle them differently with their different attitudes and accommodate them amicably to convince and persuade them to know their HV status.

Manual guides are of greater help for those clients who take the kits to test in their homes or convenient places. This is as a reminder for those who have forgotten the steps in conducting an HIV Self-Test when shown on-site or in the pharmacy.  Referral and linkages pathways are at the high core since those whose HIV self-test kits are available to them are linked to a standby qualified HIV Testing services counselors whom they can contact on their convenient time for further assistance.

The toll-free number given to potential HIV self-test clients is an assurance of further help in case one has encountered a challenge like interpreting results or is in need of psycho-social support. Most of the reactive cases are gathered from WhatsApp and via SMS. This shows that clients are confident in this toll-free number to an extent of even giving out their numbers for easy contact and follow-up.

HIV self-test kit shouldn’t be given to a client before you get their consent for it is voluntary. This is to show the clients that they have their body autonomy right. The kits have created a confidential space for people who engaged maybe in unprotected sex with partners whose status they were unaware of. The process has also created confidentiality for reactive clients choose the health facility they wish to go to for treatment.

With low awareness of HIV, the progress made on this pandemic remains unknown to some in the informal settlements. This campaign picked up the initiative to continue empowering the community on relevant information on HIV. For instance, the two types of HIV self-test kits, the community tends to go for blooded as compared to oral-based. Comprehending what the reagents test makes them see the sense that there is no difference both will give results.

Through HIV self-test kits, men and the general population are supported to know their HIV status, reactive clients are subjected to confirmatory tests at a health center or Ministry of Health’s approved HIV testing centers, reactive clients are linked to care and treatment. 

On this auspicious day, we can't brag that the HIV self-test kit campaign is the silver bullet of fighting HIV and AIDS but rather a significant contributor to realizing the 95 95 95 campaign that is spearheaded by UNAIDS. This simply means that at least 95 per cent of all individuals who don’t know their HIV status get to know their status, 95 per cent of those who are HIV positive are linked to HIV care and treatment and 95 per cent of those who are on treatment suppresses their viral load to more than 95 per cent.

HIV self-test kits are available at pharmacies across the country. Let's go and get tested as we celebrate positive strides made toward the fight against HIV and AIDS in Kenya and beyond.

Men, it is often said that good things come to those who wait, but, today we suggest that we jump out of the fear of our HIV status’s zone and give it a whirl in the testing corners of the areas that we opt for so we can obtain HIV self-test kits from pharmacies at our convenient times. 

The writer, Peter Onchuru Mokaya, is the Executive Director of U-Tena Youth Organization.