HIV Self-Testing Leads to Self-Empowerment in Ethiopia

By Amerti Lemma, Communications Coordinator, PSI/Ethiopia

“I remember the first time I got tested,” said Hana, recalling her experience from many years ago. “It was extremely scary and made me feel that knowing my status, which was likely be positive, could mean the end of the world.” At the time, stigma around HIV positive was high in Ethiopia, and few had an understanding of the virus and how it is transmitted.

Hana and her friend, Selam, have been going to PSI/Ethiopia’s HIV prevention drop-in centers for the past four years. As peer educators and participants themselves, they understand that knowing your HIV status is an important factor in living a healthy life. As female sex workers, they know that their risk of contracting HIV is high. Because of this, sex workers are a population that the USAID-funded MULU/MARPs HIV Prevention Project, led by PSI/Ethiopia, simply can’t afford to miss.

Hana and Selam were part of the insight gathering phase of the HIV self-test (HIVST) kits that PSI/Ethiopia is launching in ten towns across Ethiopia where the burden of HIV is high. A first for the country, this project puts a strong emphasis on empowering consumers like the two women.

Hana and Selam tell PSI that they make sure to be tested every three months, even though the recommendation is to be tested every six months. “The last time I got tested was two weeks ago using the OraQuick self-test. It made no sense when it was being explained to me, but I found it to be so straight forward [when used],” Hana explained. “I felt like a doctor administering my own health exam using something sophisticated. The convenience and the fact that I don’t have to endure judgment from health practitioners after knowing my status is so empowering that I told everyone I met that day about HIVST.”

After hearing this, USAID, government health bureaus and local implementing partners were excited about the potential that using the HIV self-testing kits would have with at-risk populations. In addition to prevention of HIV through distribution of condoms, screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), free counseling services and the drop-in centers, Hana and Selam agreed that being able to find these HIV self-test kits would be hugely beneficial for them.

The two friends have different opinions about where they would like to be able te access these kits. In addition to the drop-in centers, the self-testing kits will be available at pharmacies and health centers.

“I simply can’t wait to show the HIVST kits to my peers once this product becomes abundantly available,” said Selam with a beaming smile.

Banner photo: © Population Services International / Banner Photo by: Sophia Greenbaum