AHF has always been and remains an implementer organization. Where others dabble in theory and deliberation, AHF takes a practical approach, solving real-life problems by tackling challenges on the ground. A few days ago we tested for HIV our 10-millionth client, since the Rapid Testing Program (RTP) took on its present structure in 2010.
Mary Ambasa, a woman in her 30s from Nairobi, Kenya is client number 10,000,000. She recently stopped by the AHF clinic in the Mathare slum district to “be tested, so that I can know my status,” as she explained. She didn’t know that she would be the one to round off the 10 million tests, which have been done by AHF over the past half a decade across 32 countries.
“You want to tell me I am a tenth million!” Ambasa exclaimed when the testing counselor informed her of this milestone. “Then, if I am a tenth million, I will go and tell every one of my neighbors and relatives to come and get tested, because there are many people who have to come out to be tested. To attain 10 million is not a joke.”
Indeed, Ambasa’s comments underline a major gap in HIV testing that still exists in many countries. UNAIDS estimates that over half of all HIV positive people don’t know their status. At a time when test kit stock-outs still frequently occur around the world, much work remains to be done to make free HIV testing conveniently accessible and available to millions of people.
“Well before the WHO released its streamlined HIV testing guidelines, we at AHF came to the conclusion that, if the world is to get millions of HIV positive people into treatment, then we need to think much, much bigger in terms of how many people are being reached with testing services,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy. “At the time, the reality was that the prevailing VCT model (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) was too slow and inconvenient to achieve the volumes of testing we had in mind, so we proposed and rolled out an alternative, the RTP model.”
The RTP model focused on making testing available in settings that were convenient to the public, in clinics, community testing sites, mobile outreach units and at public events. It streamlined and simplified the pre- and post-test counseling process and placed an emphasis on the availability of same-day results by leveraging innovative rapid test kit technologies, instead of the traditional, slow venipuncture-based tests.
“Today, when we reflect on reaching the 10 million mark, it’s apparent that AHF’s bold vision that testing can be done better, faster, more cost-effectively and on a much bigger scale has yielded tremendous results,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor, AHF’s Africa Bureau Chief. “Since 2010, we’ve helped identify and link into care 386,963 HIV positive clients out of the 10 million tested under the RTP model. Among all 32 country testing programs that worked tirelessly to reach this goal, Uganda and Kenya led the way.”
According to the RTP data, AHF Uganda Cares contributed over 3 million tests to the overall total since 2010. In 2015 alone, the program tested 905,403 clients, of whom 23,311 were identified as HIV positive and linked into care. In honor of this momentous contribution, AHF leadership has award the Uganda Cares team with a commemorative plaque that acknowledges their dedication and hard work.
In Kenya, where the 10-millionth client was tested, the testing program saw the most rapid growth year over year. In 2015, the total number of clients reached with testing services was 563,792 and 10,536 were identified as HIV positive and linked to care.
“The milestone of AHF doing 10 million tests is not merely significant because of the number itself—although it is undoubtedly impressive—more importantly, this effort has allowed 10 million people to take charge of their health, learn their status and do what is necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF. “That is a very powerful idea, the RTP model without exaggeration has changed the world in a tangible way for the better. That being said, now that the WHO has officially endorsed a streamlined approach to testing, the rest of the world needs to step up and implement it. There’s still a lot of work ahead of us on HIV testing.”