Shortage of HIV testing kits at health centres

By Michael Uugwanga

and Maria Kandjungu

THE Ministry of Health and Social Services has extended the HIV/AIDS retesting waiting period from the current three months to 12 months, owing to lack of finances in procuring sufficient testing kits.

Although the ministry has strongly denied this, Confidente has uncovered that public health officials countrywide were directed to only do retests to HIV negative persons a year after the initial test instead of the usual required three to six months.

This means that once a person tests negative, they can only go back a year later for a follow up/ retest to confirm those results instead of the usual three and six months as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Government does not have money to buy a lot of testing kits. People cannot come back after every six months anymore,” a healthworker told Confidente.

“We are prioritising those that are at risk, like pregnant women and those that are breastfeeding. Those that have HIV positive partners are given a follow up of every three months. We also include those in risky careers like sex workers but everyone else is now only tested after a year. It’s like that countrywide,” the source added.

Another healthworker also confirmed that the waiting period for HIV negative members of society was extended following official communication from the head office.

“The ministry can no longer afford to test people every time they feel like they want to get tested. They [ministry] realised that some people come for testing every time they have sex even when they already know that they are negative. It’s a waste of resources and there is no money to keep buying kits,” said another healthworker.

Approached for comment, executive director in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ben Nangombe denied that the ministry is experiencing a shortage of testing kits after saying that the ministry has rapid testing kits available at the Central Medical Stores.

“[We use] Colloidal Gold which is used during the first testing of HIV, when a test comes out positive a second testing kit called Unigold is used. This (Unigold) is the second test to be used to confirm the first test. Should one receive a discordant result from the first one another third test kit is used. Sure-Check is the third and it is the tiebreaker and a confirmation test. All of the three testing kits are available at CMS. Katutura Health Centre does not have any shortage of testing kits,” he said.

Nangombe however did not confirm nor deny extension of the waiting period for those that have tested negative nor did he provide reasons to the change.

He only said that those for that have tested positive, treatment is initiated immediately.

“The second test to be done is a laboratory viral load monitoring test which is done after six months. This is repeated after six months just to confirm if the patient is responding well to the treatment given. When the viral load becomes undetectable, the test is then only done once a year.”

The health ministry has been getting one of the biggest chunks of the national budget in the last four financial years with their last allocation for 2020/21 standing at N$7.95 billion. Despite this, the ministry has been experiencing several shortages of critical medications, health equipment and staff members to attend to patients.