“Defeating this awful HIV epidemic requires an understanding of society, as well as individuals, as well as medicine. And without an understanding of all of those, we will never defeat it,” says Director of Africa Health Research Institute, Professor Deenan Pillay.
On the 25 May 2017, BBC One aired The Truth About HIV; a documentary that follows Dr Chris van Tulleken, a researcher from University College London (UCL), as he talks to people living with, diagnosing and treating HIV.
During the documentary, van Tullenken met with Pillay to talk about the major Treatment as Prevention (TasP) trail in KwaZulu-Natal, the province hardest hit by HIV in South Africa.
The trial involved more than 24 000 participants and assessed the impact of home-based HIV testing and immediate treatment for the newly diagnosed on reducing HIV incidence.
Through a real-time digital dashboard, the team tracked the progress of the trial, identified areas where further support was needed and targeted interventions to improve linkage to care.
“We were able to, in our trial, diagnose 92 percent of those individuals who are infected,” says Pillay.
Early diagnoses of HIV plays a critical role in access to antiretroviral medication before a person’s immune system is irreversibly damaged.
Pillay says the challenge is getting people into clinics to receive care.
“It’s a tremendous success that we’ve been able to go into people’s homes and convince them to be tested for HIV, but the point of that is that they get onto treatment.”
Unfortunately, less than half (47%) of people in KwaZulu-Natal get into care, which is not enough to reduce the HIV epidemic.
Stigma plays a big part in people not accessing care. Home testing opens up an opportunity for people to self-test in the safety and privacy of their homes.
A team involving AHRI, i-sense and UCL researchers is now in the process of developing mobile phone-connected HIV tests, which link to online prevention and medical care.
The aim is to widen access to HIV self-testing and developing mobile phone-connected tests to ensure patients are rapidly diagnosed and linked into care pathways.
*The Truth About HIV is not currently available to viewers based in South Africa but will be broadcast via BBC Worldwide at a future date.