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SASOD lauds HIV self-testing, interested in rendering services

January 14, 2021

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has lauded the Government’s decision to implement self-testing for HIV. At the launch of the National HIV Strategic Plan, on 5 January 2021, Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, announced that the government is looking to implement HIV self-testing in Guyana.

During an interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Wednesday, Managing Director of SASOD Guyana, Joel Simpson, commended the initiative and noted that SASOD is ready and willing to support the initiative by providing counselling services to persons impacted.

“It’s a laudable initiative because HIV self-testing is showing results in other parts of the world.  It encourages persons that would not normally utilise HIV health services, to test in the privacy of their homes and know their HIV status,” Simpson explained.

Simpson highlighted that self-testing would increase HIV testing coverage since it can be made available to persons far and wide.  “This will inevitably help curtail the spread of HIV”, stated the SASOD Director.

“It’s a very innovative and effective prevention strategy; it could be targeted to those groups that are not reaching out to health services to get an HIV test,” he said. He explained that persons generally have concerns about stigma and discrimination and are usually unsure about the confidentiality of information they share during the HIV testing process.

Further, he highlighted that studies have revealed that Caribbean men are less likely to utilise health services until they are severely affected.

“HIV self-testing provides an opportunity to improve confidentiality and reach persons that are not coming forward. If targeted to the right groups, it can increase HIV testing coverage in Guyana,” Simpson explained.

MISUNDERSTANDING

Responding to the criticism of the initiative by some persons that Guyana is not equipped and ready for such an endeavour, primarily because persons would not be able to access counselling services when self-testing, Simpson opined that this is a misunderstanding.

He explained that the World Health Organization (WHO) guiding principles on HIV testing and counselling stipulates that testing and counselling should be voluntary and must adhere to the five Cs. The five Cs are consent, confidentiality, counselling, correct test results and connections to care, treatment and prevention services. The SASOD Director noted that the organisation is ready and willing to provide counselling services and render psycho-social support to persons of all genders and sexual orientation when the initiative commences.

“SASOD would be interested in providing counselling services.  We want to ensure that persons have counselling to prepare for the results after taking an HIV test.  It’s important that persons have psycho-social support if they test positive,” Simpson related. He is also hopeful that in rolling out the initiative, the government will implement different methodologies in relation to counselling to ensure the initiative’s success, such as a hotline number.

Simpson noted that organisations such as SASOD would play a significant role in creating awareness about the initiative through relationships established with persons who utilise their services. He urged the ministry to connect with these groups that already provide social support and counselling to develop partnerships.

“I would encourage the ministry and national programme to conduct extensive consultations with civil society groups that work in the HIV response to establish these groups as partners in the HIV self-testing initiative,” Simpson said.