A new finding by the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has revealed that an estimated 9.4 million people who are infected with HIV virus are not aware.
According to the report, dubbed ‘Knowledge is Power’, 75 per cent of all people living with HIV or 27 million people, know their HIV status.
The report made a called for increased efforts to reach the 9.4 million people living with HIV who are not aware that they are living with the virus and the estimated 19.4 million people living with HIV who do not have a suppressed viral load.
The new report showed that intensified HIV testing and treatment efforts were reaching more people living with HIV.
To remain healthy and to prevent transmission, the HIV virus needs to be suppressed to undetectable or very low levels through susstained antiretroviral therapy.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr Michel Sidibé, pointed out that to effectively monitor viral load, people living with HIV need access to viral load testing every 12 months.
“Viral load testing is the gold standard in HIV treatment monitoring. It shows that treatment is working, keeping people alive and well and keeping the virus firmly under control,” Sidibé said.
The report noted that access to viral load testing was mixed; in some parts of the world, getting a viral load test is easy and fully integrated into a person’s HIV treatment regime, while in others, there may be only one viral load machine for the entire country.
Sidibé stressed: “Viral load monitoring needs to be as available in Lilongwe as it is in London.
“HIV testing and viral load testing should be equal and accessible to all people living with HIV, without exception”.
The report identified stigma and discrimination as the biggest barriers to HIV testing.
Studies among women, men, young people and key populations revealed that fear of being seen accessing HIV services, and if the person is diagnosed, fear that this information would be shared with family, friends, sexual partners or the wider community, was preventing them from accessing HIV services, including HIV testing.
According to UNAIDS, however, access to HIV testing is a basic human right, and the UN HIV/AIDS agency said it was calling for a global commitment to remove the barriers preventing people from testing for HIV.
The barriers include eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination, ensuring confidentiality in HIV testing and treatment services, and deploying an optimal mix of HIV testing strategies to reach the populations most in need.
Others are integration with other health services, removing policy and legal barriers hindering access to HIV testing and treatment, expanding access to viral load monitoring in low- and middle-income countries and ensuring access to early infant diagnosis for newborns.
The report demonstrated that implementing these measures would hugely advance progress towards ensuring that all people living with and affected by HIV have access to the life-saving services they need.