The government on Thursday launched a two-pronged approach in the war on HIV/Aids.
It introduced a prevention drug for people at risk of contracting the virus and initiated a method of self testing.
Known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the drug will be given out for free.
The targeted population for the roll-out includes discordant couples, people with multiple sexual partners, individuals who have had sexually transmitted infections, addicts who inject drugs, people who have had recurrent use of post-exposure prophylaxis, sex workers and those who do not use condoms consistently.
During the launch of the programme, National Aids and STI Control Programme head Martin Sirengo said the drug would also be available to anyone wishing to access use but at a monthly cost of Sh3,600.
“If you decide to use PrEP, you must complement it with other methods of protection,” Dr Sirengo said.
For the next five years, an estimated 200,000 Kenyans will be put on PrEP, costing the government about Sh30 billion.
“We have mapped out seven counties, which account for almost 60 per cent of the infections. They are Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, Siaya, Kiambu, Mombasa and Nairobi,” he said.
At the same time, a new method of self-testing has been introduced.
The kits will be available in private pharmacies and would cost Sh800 to Sh1,000.
Two brands have been approved by the government: an oral swab test and a blood sample one.
The oral kit, known as OraQuick, will require the user to do a 360 swab of the upper and lower gum of the mouth before placing the swab in a reagent, which will give results in 20 minutes.
Those using the blood sample kit known as Insti, would be required to prick a finger and put the blood in a control kit to read the results.
Unlike the oral test, the blood sample test gives back results instantly.
“We are introducing this test to reach the approximately 400,000 people suspected to be having HIV but are yet to formally get tested,” explained Dr Sarah Masyuko Nascop's HIV testing and PrEP manager.
The self-test is a simple rapid HIV test that can be used in private. It is discreet and therefore convenient as it gives the user the autonomy to be the first to learn their status.
According to NASCOP, the test that will be available for anybody above 15 years, has a high sensitivity of up to is 80 percent accuracy. Dr Sirengo however advised that if a user has a reactive self-test (the test turns out positive), they should go to the nearest Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centre for a confirmatory test.
If the test is non-reactive or negative self-test, the user is advised to also seek services that will link them to HIV prevention services such as condoms and male circumcision.
Despite many HIV/Aids awareness campaigns and the government offering free HIV testing and counselling in antenatal care clinics, many Kenyans remain reluctant to go for HIV tests as they fear being stigmatised by others.
By introducing the self-test kit, the government is aiming at targeted testing which will see those who test positive put on treatment.
Annually, an estimated 6.5 million people walk into HIV testing centres but only three percent (195,000) test positive. Yet, with about 1.5 million are known to be living with HIV, nearly 500,000 others not aware of their status.
“This is the number that we need to reach out to and If we are to achieve the Fast-Track target set by WHO, then we must conduct targeted testing, which can be done through the self-test kits,” said Dr Sirengo.
Questions have however been raised on the potential danger of self-destruction in the event a person gets a positive result, since the kits bypass the pre-counselling step.
“A formative study was conducted in 2013/2014 in Nairobi and Western to assess the acceptability of these kits and we found there was no adverse destruction reported,” said Dr Sirengo.