The Ministry of Health will make available over-the-counter oral HIV self-testing kit at Rwf5,000 down from Rwf10,000, thanks to a public-private partnership with pharmaceutical agencies.
The kit is expected to be available before the end of this year.
According to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), HIV self-testing was officially launched in December 2017 to complement other testing methods in place with focus on people who have little time due to work constraints.
Sabin Nzanzimana, the head of Division, HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections at RBC, says the move follows the successful implementation of the previous phases, where in the first phase about 6,000 kits were supplied in Kigali.
Another order of 100,000 kits is on the way, and all these are being distributed for free, as part of a mass awareness campaign.
The first phase began in Kigali because it has the highest HIV rate of 6 per cent, while other parts of the country account for 3 per cent. They target work places, both public and private institutions.
"The feedback from users informed us that there is a significant demand, especially among the working and elite class of the population who usually fear making their status known when using the normal health facility testing channels," Nzanzimana said.
"After realising this need, we came up with an innovative way of partnering with the private sector and make sure people have easy access at an affordable price," he added.
According to 2015 Demographic Health Survey, 24 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women have never had an HIV test, with a high percentage among youth aged 15 to 24 (67.2 per cent).
However, Nsanzimana says this is expected to change and people are embracing the new self-test kit.
Currently, in the few pharmacies where the kits are sold, they are obtained at Rwf10,000, a price many say is not affordable, which prompted Government to seek ways of having it subsdised.
Under the deal, pharmacies will be helping the programme by fetching minimal profit while the manufacturer has also agreed to subsidise the price.
Over 22 Kigali-based pharmacies in various neighbourhoods have been consulted and trained on how the kit works to be able to follow up their clients in need of counselling, before and after using the device.
These are the pharmacies that will be initially vending the kits.
Nzanzimana added that the negotiations were also extended to the Bethlehem-based OraSure Company (currently the only producer of Oral HIV test kit) which also agreed to sell to pharmacies at a lower price.
How the HIV self-testing works
According to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, oral HIV self-testing kit allows one to discreetly determine his/her HIV status at a time and place that is convenient for them .
Dr Beata Sangwayire , Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) senior officer at the RBC explains that one is supposed to swab the device on both upper and lower gingiva, then put it into a solvent liquid and read results on the same device within 15 to 20 minutes. The device is used once.
"When the result is positive, the devise mark two red lines and immediately after the results, those found to be HIV-positive have to get free and immediate treatment and support at their nearest health facility," she said.
She added that the tests have a 99.7 per cent accuracy rate, higher than that of an average pregnancy test kit.
However, they may not detect infections that have occurred within the last three months, so it is recommended that those at high-risk are tested after every three months.
All positive results will need to be confirmed by a health care professional, Sangwayire said.
There is a hotline number (114) where people can call in and ask questions if they have any queries or problems regarding the results or the self-testing kit itself.