November 22 to 28, 2021 is International Testing Week! Whether for HIV, hepatitis B and C, sexually transmitted infections, and even some cancers: get tested! Coalition PLUS and its member organizations and partners are mobilizing community resources to help you access screening more easily.
The International Testing Week: global mobilization !
In order to remind everyone of the importance of getting tested, for their own health and the health of others, Coalition PLUS and its member organizations and partners are organizing International Testing Week! For the second year in a row, we are implementing a series of actions adapted to national health contexts to promote testing for:
- hepatitis B and C,
- sexually transmitted infections,
- certain cancers linked to human papillomavirus (HPV).
As such, our community-based organizations are planning screening campaigns in health centers and off-site in the countries where this is possible. Indeed, our activists have the necessary training to ensure and guarantee confidentiality and the personal protective equipment to carry out tests in compliance with general safety and social distancing measures. In countries where restrictions on movement remain in place, other solutions will be available such as HIV self-testing.
International Testing Week: A successful first edition
In November 2020, Coalition PLUS organized the first International Testing Week, as an extension of the European Testing Week. A total of 35 Coalition PLUS members and partners in 32 countries participated in the event, which resulted in a total of:
- nearly 14,000 HIV tests, of which 2.6% were positive;
- more than 5,000 HBV tests, of which 5.2% were positive;
- nearly 5,000 HCV tests, of which 3.8% were positive.
COVID-19: HIV testing in free fall
The health crisis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly slowed down the AIDS response. According to the latest Global Fund report, only 8.7 million people received HIV prevention services in 2020. This corresponds to a decrease of 11% compared to 2019. HIV testing, meanwhile, has declined by 22% globally.
International Testing Week: know what’s what and take part in ending the epidemics!
Whatever the infection, knowing your status – whether positive or negative – is vital to care for yourself… and others! Only after you’ve been tested and diagnosed will you have access to treatment and care. By taking control of our health, we play a role in controlling epidemics.
For example, if your HIV test is negative, access to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a highly effective treatment to prevent infection, can be set up. Alternatively, if the HIV test is positive, referral to a health center, with or without accompaniment, can be immediately organized. The health centers offer viral load monitoring and prescribe antiretroviral drugs. With effective treatment, a person living with HIV does not sexually transmit the virus! Finally, following a positive test for hepatitis C, it is now possible to access direct-acting antiviral drugs which will cure in 3 months.
Marginalized communities: increased vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis
Testing is the first step to ending HIV and viral hepatitis. But we are a long way from thistarget. Today, 1 out of 6 people living with HIV globally do not know their HIV status. As for hepatitis C, 4 out of 5 infected people are not diagnosed.
Access to testing can be particularly difficult for key populations, such as gay and bisexual men, people who inject drugs, transgender people, and sex workers. These populations and their sexual partners account for two-thirds of new HIV infections and one-third of them are not aware of their HIV status. The cause: stigmatization, discrimination and inequalities. These alienate the most vulnerable populations from testing and care and are barriers to accessing vital therapeutic innovations.
Community-based testing: A proven prevention strategy
Beyond testing itself, our activists reach out to people, particularly within their own communities. The International Testing Week is an opportunity to further strengthen this link and to connect with these hard-to-reach populations. The goal is to present the available prevention tools , including testing and to start a conversation about sexual health.
Our experience shows that once trained in the required biomedical tasks, people from the populations moost vulnerable to HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs are the best placed to test their peers! They understand their needs and realities and they provide a safe, non-judgmental environment. What’s more, this approach is complementary to traditional healthcare systems. Whatever the result of the test, these community health workers are able to direct those tested to relevant care structures depending on the health issues encountered. Unfortunately, the true value of this expertise is still not recognized. That must change.
International Testing Week Partners
The International Testing Week is co-financed by the Agence Française de Développement. It is supported by L’Initiative, implemented by Expertise France