Buying HIV home test in Kenya not for faint-hearted

By Gatonye Gathura

Shopping for an HIV-home test in Kenya is a heart-breaking experience, shows a recent survey in Nairobi and Mombasa.

The sale of self-test kits introduced last year in private retail pharmacies and health facilities, the survey says is facing serious uptake challenges.

The survey conducted in Mombasa and Nairobi reports uneven pricing, kits of unknown quality, lack of privacy and unfriendly staff.

The report was presented at an international Aids conference in Mexico on 22 July 2019 by the NGO Population Services International (PSI).

PSI’s Nairobi and Washington researchers told of how in September last year they had sent 28 trained people to act as shoppers for HIV test kits in 14 private health facilities and 41 pharmacies in the two towns.

Many reported uneven pricing of the kits with some going for as high as Sh900 against the recommended Sh500 which was reported to keep off would-be buyers.

The shoppers also found some kits of non-verified quality being sold for as low as Sh150. These kits of unverified quality, the reports show to mainly come from South Africa and China.

In many outlets, the kits were not on display hence shoppers had to inquire on availability in environments offering no privacy.

Many of the staff, the report says were unfriendly and had to be prompted to explain how the test works. Seventeen percent of clients did not get any explanation at all.

More than half of the kit providers could not answer specific test-use questions satisfactorily.

“Misinformation, unfriendliness, lack of privacy, and provider preferences for one test kit over the other were also reported,” said the study.

“Forty-nine percent of our shoppers in pharmacies and 57 percent of those in health facilities either did not have their questions answered or were not answered satisfactorily,” said the report.

The survey showed adolescents and women to prefer the oral-fluid test, whereas older users expressed preferences for the blood-based kit.

An earlier report by Kristen Little of PSI claimed many Kenyans are willing to purchase the home test but are being put off by the high price.

Preferred price, the report said was Sh198 for adolescents, Sh199 for adult women but Sh178 for adult men.

Adult men had slightly lower willingness to pay for the self-test than adolescents or adult women.

Justifying the push for HIV home kits in the private sector, PSI says this is where about 50 percent of adults in Kenya and 27 percent of adolescents seek health care.

It is estimated there are about one million adults who seek health care from the private sector in Nairobi and Mombasa and 13 million countrywide.

There was an anxious moment at the Mexico conference with a study from South Africa showing a significant number of false-negative results being recorded through the home kits.

The study by the University of the Witwatersrand reported 16 recordings of false-negative results from 600 self-test in already HIV positive people.

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