On the eve of World AIDS Day, the World Health Organisation pitched for making quality testing accessible to all to accelerate progress against HIV/AIDS.
WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Poonam Khetrapal Singh said people living with HIV (PLHIV) across the world lacked access to testing and hence, did not know their HIV status.
"Lack of such testing facilities inhibits access to treatment and enhances the likelihood of AIDS-related complications and death. It also allows the virus to spread.
"Ensuring all people everywhere have access to quality HIV testing and know their status is critical to preventing and controlling HIV/AIDS," she said.
Singh said though, in recent years, member states have made strong progress in all aspects of HIV/AIDS prevention and control, still, an estimated 3.5 million people live with the disease.
Between 2010 and 2017, AIDS-related deaths declined by 40 per cent. Between 2000 and 2017, new infections were more than halved i.e. from 3,18,000 to 1,57,000 cases, she said.
"Still, an estimated 3.5 million people region-wide currently live with the disease, with around 51 per cent receiving Antiretroviral treatment (ART) and an estimated
36 per cent completely unaware of their status. This must be remedied as a priority," she said.
The WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia noted that novel approaches such as community-based testing by lay providers, community-led testing and HIV self-testing were vital tools to help people know their status.
She also asked the countries to ensure WHO
pre-qualified HIV self-test kits were registered with drug regulators and readily accessible.
They must also remove all structural barriers to access testing, including the need for parental consent for adolescents, Singh said.
"Communities themselves must be encouraged to embrace HIV testing. This can be done via communication campaigns that strive to eliminate the stigma and fear surrounding the disease, and which tailor messaging according to key populations.
"This is especially important given nearly two-thirds of new infections in the Region occur among key populations, who are at a significantly higher risk of contracting the virus than the general population," the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia said.
As recent regional think tank meetings have stressed, empowering key populations to harness 'Aids Assets' will help "prevent, test and treat" HIV, thereby keeping them safe and reducing the disease's prevalence, she said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will continue to support member states via technical and operational assistance as they work to ensure that by 2020 at least 90 per cent of PLHIV in the region know their status, at least 90 pc of those who know their status are on treatment, and at least 90 per cent of those on treatment have suppressed viral loads, Singh added.
(With inputs from agencies.)