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By Victoria Ojeme A new, rapid HIV testing kit, Alere HIV Combo, which detects both HIV antibodies and antigen, has been awarded World Health Organisation, WHO, pre-qualification, making it available for public sector procurement in resource-limited countries. The effect of this is that Nigerians can now know their HIV status with assistance of a health worker within days. Currently there are 1.9 million Nigerians living with HIV according to the 2018 NAIIS survey carried out by the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA. The erstwhile Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said the Alere rapid test kit is a new addition to existing laboratory and hospital modes of confirming HIV status within the country. According to Dr Kuku Appiah, Director, Medical & Scientific Affairs – Africa for Abbott Rapid Diagnostics, Alere HIV Combo is a paper strip test. Buhari to drug traffickers: When you’re caught, blame yourself A drop of blood, Appiah said, is applied and tested and the result is ready in 20 minutes. Conventional second- and third-generation HIV rapid tests can only detect antibodies against HIV which may not appear until three weeks after infection. The Director said Alere HIV Combo detects these antibodies but can also detect free HIV-1 p24 antigen which can appear up to 7.7 days earlier. •Dr Kuku Appiah“If one conducts an HIV test immediately after unprotected sex, most the laboratories will tell you that you cannot get the result until three months after because it is not visible. However with this Alere HIV Combo, the disease is detected only a few days after, thus giving the victim the opportunity to stop it from spreading by starting medication immediately,” she added. “Alere HIV Combo detects someone who is HIV positive up to a week earlier than any other test because it uses antigens. Most tests out there measure the antibodies but AHC measures the antigens, thus making it possible for the virus to be detected on time. “Because most tests are not able to detect the virus in the first few days, a person infected with HIV in the first few weeks of infection is not able to deal with the virus, so the virus is running rampage in their system. If they have unprotected sex or if they are pregnant they will easily transmit the virus to the next person. Thus, a person who has had HIV for years is less likely to transmit it to the next person compared to a person who has had it for days or weeks. “To halt further spread of HIV we need to identify people who are recently infected and put them on treatment immediately. This ensures that they do not have unprotected sex without knowledge of their condition. “It is important for government to put up massive resources to fight the HIV epidemic. And this can be done through being able to identify those recently infected. Once we are able to identify those who are spreading the diseases we can ensure that they are treated.” Speaking on Nigeria’s preparedness to meet the 90-90-90 goal, she said “There is still a gap even though the total burden has been readjusted. We are waiting for the new quantification from the government and from the implementing partners. It’s like driving a car, because the moment you remove your foot from the pedal, things can go out of hand. “For now, I can’t speak about what the new target is but what I will say is that knowing the figure it means that the country is closer to the target though there is still work to be done.” “I will like to say that even though the new status has shown the number of people with HIV in Nigeria it is lower than what was previously projected, this does not mean that resources must be shifted away from HIV unto other diseases because HIV has more of economic impact on the nation and it is possible that people who continue to be infected with HIV now are the more marginalised. “The hard to reach population are the key population, because they may not have as much of a voice demanding resources from the government so it is up to the civil society to ensure that the epidemic comes to an end and that people that are infected continue to receive optimum care”.