Brazil expands HIV testing with the help of NGOs

The NGOs members received practical training

Brasília, 29 November 2013 - In the run up to World AIDS Day, celebrated on December 1st, the STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Department of Brazil's Ministry of Health launched a new activity under the existing partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in order to promote an innovative approach to rapid HIV testing in the country.

Training workshops were held this week in Brasília with representatives of 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the country, in order to expand the supply of rapid tests for HIV among the populations which are most vulnerable to the infection. Based on research on the prevalence of the virus, four priority groups were selected: drug users, gay men and men who have sex with men, sex workers and transsexual people.

According to the Representative of the UNODC Liaison and Partnership Office in Brazil, Rafael Franzini, "this is a very important initiative that will contribute to the expansion of access to testing among people who use drugs, as well as to other vulnerable populations".

The main innovation is the provision of rapid HIV testing using oral fluid. The method is very easy to conduct and the result comes out in only 20 minutes, with 99% reliability. At the same time, the method allows the testing to be conducted beyond health centers, thus expanding the access to the selected priority groups, which sometimes prefer to be approached at night, on the streets and in their various spaces of sociability.

Specialist shows the products of the testing kit

People with positive results will be forwarded to health centers previously defined by each location's STD/AIDS management, in order to allow the treatment to begin right away. In addition, people from the groups most exposed to the virus may take antiretroviral drugs for prevention together with traditional methods, such as using condoms.

"Once again, Brazil has taken a leading role in responding to the AIDS epidemic in the world, stimulating earlier diagnosis and the expansion of a fully free treatment", said Brazil's Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha. Besides Brazil, only France and the United States offer antiretroviral medication to HIV-positive patients without any compromise of the immune system.

The Director of the STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Department of the Ministry of Health, Fábio Mesquita, highlighted the importance of the partnership with UNODC during the opening of the workshops. "For me, it is a joy to be here with UNODC, an institution which has been a partner of our department since 1993, a time when no one even talked about harm reduction. Today, with the help of the Brazilian experience, UNODC speaks about harm reduction all around the world. In my view, there is no better partner to conduct this initiative with the Brazilian government", he said.

Drug users

Representatives from nine NGOs working on harm reduction among drug users participated in the training. Thaty Pinangé, who works at an NGO in João Pessoa, approved the new testing method. "It is a simple technology and it does not require a health care professional to apply it. The idea is to approach them [the drug users] even when they are using drugs", she said.

Tyba, who has been working on harm reduction for 13 years and currently operates in Londrina, believes that the participation of NGOs can facilitate drug users' adherence to treatment. "They already have a bond of trust with the NGOs", he said.

The NGOs targeting drug users that participated in the workshops are: Águia Morena de Redução de Danos (PRD), from Campo Grande; Aliança de Redução de Danos Fátima Cavalcanti (Fapex), from Salvador; Associação Capixaba de Redução de Danos (ACARD), from Vitória; Associação de Bem com a Vida, from Boa Vista; Associação de Mulheres do Acre Revolucionárias, from Rio Branco; Centro de Convivência É de Lei, from São Paulo; Cordel Vida, from João Pessoas; Indústria da Solidariedade, from Imbituba and Núcleo Londrinense de Redução de Danos, from Londrina.

*With information from Agência Saúde

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