Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; July 25, 2016 – The Government of Ethiopia has made tremendous progress in fighting the HIV epidemic in Ethiopia. In 2015 Ethiopia adopted what is known as the UNAIDS “90-90-90” targets. It is one in which 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people living with HIV will receive antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) will have viral suppression. These ambitious targets have the potential to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
HIV testing is the key entry point for reaching 90-90-90, as it plays a critical role in informing people of their HIV status and bringing those diagnosed with HIV in for care and treatment services. With the goal of achieving the 90-90-90 targets, the Federal Ministry of Health (MoH) plans to test 13.9 million people over the next year. With full support of the development partners, the MoH is launching a “Catch-up Campaign” for HIV testing on Tuesday, July 26th and will test approximately 6 million people over the next three months.
The “Catch-up Campaign” is a significant intervention to reach people who are living with HIV in Ethiopia but don’t know it and to provide them with life-saving treatment. The U.S. Government (USG), UNAIDS, and Global Fund are working closely with the MoH to provide technical support to ensure the successful implementation of the “Catch-up Campaign”. The MoH has also endorsed “Test and Start,” where people living with HIV are given the opportunity to immediately initiate ART regardless of what stage of the disease they are in when diagnosed. Currently, all children and adolescents under 15 years, pregnant women, couples where one partner is HIV-positive, TB/HIV co-infected patients, and commercial sex workers are eligible for immediate treatment under “Test and Start,” while the Government of Ethiopia works towards rolling out a strategy to all clients who test positive. The USG, also endorsing “Test and Start,” is focusing its efforts to reach the most affected populations where they live and has therefore selected 20 high-priority towns to implement intensive program interventions to achieve optimal ART saturation.
As the GoE moves towards “Test and Start” for all people living with HIV, accurate results from HIV Rapid Test Kits are ever-more important. The World Health Organization, in collaboration with the U.S. Government has issued a handbook to address the quality assurance of HIV-related, point-of-care testing. Cognizant of this, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and the Regional Health Bureaus and Laboratories, are overseeing the quality assurance of HIV rapid testing by providing high-level training to increase the capacity of quality testers, conducting external quality assessment and proficiency testing, implementing standardized logbooks, and performing on-site supervisory visits to testing facilities. With targeted testing and quality test kits, the “Catch-up Campaign” and “Test and Start” initiatives will ensure that more HIV positive patients have timely access to lifesaving HIV treatment and put Ethiopia on a firm path to its 90-90-90 goals.