Taking Back Your Power through HIV Self-Testing

In today’s fast-paced world, deliberately taking time off to reflect and tend to yourself is becoming increasingly difficult. With the constant pressures of work, relationships, and personal responsibilities, it’s easy to neglect ones own well-being. So, the question remains: how do we take back our power? And the simple answer is through self-care.
On June 2, 2023, PS Kenya’s Strengthening HIV Self-testing in the Private Sector (SHIPS) project held a self-care dialogue day in Kisumu County, whose main objective was to create a safe space to discuss appropriate and sustainable self-care practices. In attendance were youth from different backgrounds, a key demographic not only for the project’s implementation but also for the country as a whole. When posed with the question of what self-care meant to them, the unanimous answer was spending quality time doing something that they loved, either by themselves, with their friends, or with significant others. In regards to social behavior change communication in the fight against HIV/AIDS, encouraging self-care has emerged as a powerful tool in promoting awareness, prevention, and early detection. HIV Self-testing as a means of self-care has become a cutting-edge strategy that empowers people to take charge of their own health and well-being. “HIV self-testing gives the user a chance to learn their status from the comfort of their home or any private location. This increases privacy and confidentiality and eliminates HIV-related stigma and prejudice from service providers,” stated Wendy Adamba, Learning Advisor, SHIPS Project, PS Kenya. At PS Kenya, we understand that in some instances, it is essential to reinvent the wheel in order to get the message across, and promoting HIV self-testing as a means to self-care. In order to be successful in this campaign, the SHIPS project embarked on both a digital and on-ground demand creation campaign dubbed ‘Confirm Unajijua’ that provided information on the benefits, process, and availability of self-testing kits. The campaign also saw the project collaborate with both physical and online pharmacies, such as ‘MYDAWA,” for easy access to the kits, condoms, and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis. The campaign incorporated the use of a WhatsApp chatbot that not only offered answers to frequently asked questions on self-testing but also risk assessment and follow-up services. One of the target audiences of PS Kenya’s SHIPS project is males and females aged 18–34 years. This demographic is made up of university students, recent graduates, and young professionals. The other target audience is males aged 35 and above, due to the fact that there is an increase in extramarital affairs. In a recent survey conducted by the SHIPS project, it was found that in a sample size of 10 people, the average number of sexual partners attached to one person ranged from two to four, a clear indication that there is a need for a conversation on HIV self-testing, condoms, safe sex, and the use of pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is administered at public health facilities upon assessment of need, i.e., for at-risk populations such as members who engage in transactional sex. However, recurrent use of PEP is discouraged as your body can acquire resistance to the drug, thereby making it less effective. Most public health facilities have also designated certain days or sections of the hospitals for youth-friendly services in order to encourage visitation and reduce stigma in the community. Health facilities have also resorted to the use of peer champions, who act as community health volunteers whose main role is to advocate for and empower the youth on matters of sexual education. By accepting self-testing as an important component of self-care, society can actively monitor its members’ status and make better decisions about individual sexual health. The integration of self-testing into the healthcare system has given the target audience an opportunity to cultivate a culture of self-care, eliminate stigma, and eventually lessen the effects of HIV/AIDS on people and society as a whole.

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