Self-testing HIV kits help in removing stigma attached with AIDS in Zimbabwe
Msipa said her decision to use a self-testing kit had influenced other women she works with to follow her example.
When she discovered she was HIV-positive early this year, sex worker Evelyn Msipa, 32, was alone in her rented apartment in Zimbabwe's capital Harare.
Under an initiative launched in 2016, the kits are sold for $3 to $5 in pharmacies and are free at public health centers as part of a drive to ensure 90 percent of Zimbabweans know their HIV status by 2020 and receive treatment quickly if needed.
"Being HIV-positive is not a death sentence after all - I know now. Nobody can tell that I have HIV because I look healthy," Msipa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
UNAIDS data shows about 1.3 million of Zimbabwe's population of 16 million are living with HIV, including some 740,000 women. About three-quarters get antiretroviral therapy that can suppress the virus that leads to AIDS.
New HIV infections have nearly halved since 2010 and AIDS-related deaths have fallen 45 percent.
"It is a good way to reach a lot more people," said Angela Mushavi, a doctor with the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
SOUTHERN AFRICA PUSH
It is now being widened to include pregnant women, young people, and adolescents, said Mushavi, who is national coordinator for prevention of mother-to-child transmission and pediatric HIV care.
Self-testing has also gained traction in other Southern African countries including Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
Across the region, 4.8 million DIY kits will be distributed by 2020, funded by global health initiative Unitaid.
Amon Mpofu, monitoring and evaluation director at the National AIDS Council, said Zimbabwe's testing levels have increased with the kits which help to tackle the stigma of HIV, especially for sexual minorities.
"It's very convenient because they can test themselves anytime and access treatment services, and live longer when they have got HIV," said Mpofu.
"The idea of having self-testing kits on a shop counter or in a healthcare center has helped demystify and destigmatize HIV," she said.
There has also been an increase in the number of men who have sex with men accessing HIV self-testing services through peer educator programmes, said Chester Samba, director of GALZ, an association for Zimbabwe's LGBTI community.
Samba said support systems had been put in place for sexual minorities whether their test results are positive or negative.
For young women like 21-year-old barmaid Keyla Mahuni the self-test kits have been a life changer.
"I could have just lived in the dark and fallen sick because I was afraid of visiting public testing centers, but thanks to self-testing, I now know my HIV status and went on treatment earlier," she said.
"It was hard at first to accept my condition, but surely life has to go on."
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)