BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council (BDAC) has called for wider availability of HIV self-test kits in pharmacies and medical centres, saying the kits would help discern the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the community and provide an avenue for early treatment.
“We want it to be like taking a pregnancy test in order to normalise testing,” said Iswandy Ahmad, president of BDAC. “Once you know your status it’s easier to access medical support.”
Much like an oral COVID test, the HIV self-test kits use a saliva sample to detect HIV antibodies and results are available in 20 minutes.
At the moment, oral fluid test kits are only being sold at Panaga Health, a private clinic in Seria.
Most government and private clinics still perform HIV screening using a blood sample taken in a medical setting, which is then sent to a lab for testing. Results are typically available within a few days.
Iswandy hopes more pharmacies and health centres will make rapid test kits available to the public, saying it would help reduce the stigma and anxiety of HIV testing.
“While self-testing provides convenience, we also want to emphasise the importance of support and counseling if a person tests positive,” he added, saying that any place offering rapid testing should provide advice and support on the next steps.
BDAC hopes to continue its free and confidential rapid testing programme, which has been running for the past five years, at its new operational centre based at the Health Promotion Centre in Berakas.
In the past two years, they have tested 180 people, returning five positive cases.
According to the most recent published government statistics, 70 new HIV cases were identified between 2018 to 2019. More than 90% of the cases were men.
Low uptake on self-test kits
In partnership with BDAC, Panaga Health has is now rolling out the rapid test kits as part of an HIV screening package costing $29.
If a person tests positive using the self-test kit, Panaga Health will provide a free confirmatory lab test.
“Through this initiative, we wanted to see if the wider public were open to rapid testing,” said Dr Ahmad Fakhri Junaidi, chief medical officer of Panaga Health.
“Now people are more familiar with performing ART tests themselves, we thought this is probably the right time to introduce this programme so the community can take responsibility for their own health.”
Dr Fakhri said the uptake on self-test kits has been slow so far, attributing it to low awareness and the clinic’s location in Seria, where it serves a small catchment area.
“We have had a high number of queries from people living in Bandar asking how they can get it, but they don’t really want to go all the way to Belait just to buy it.
“So perhaps there’s more opportunity to work with the AIDS Council, trying to get these test kits sold through the AIDS Council for people living in Bandar,” he added.
Patients registered with Panaga Health can also order the kits through delivery service GoRush.
Dr Fakhri explained that early medical intervention is crucial for people living with HIV – advances in treatment means that people who are HIV positive can live normal lives if they receive continuous antiretroviral treatment.
HIV-suppressing medication works by reducing the amount of the virus in the blood to undetectable levels so that an individual can no longer infect others.
Brunei reported its first HIV/AIDS case in 1986. As of December 2021, a total of 374 cases have
been reported, with 74 dying from AIDS-related complications.