Community-based voluntary counselling and testing services (CBVCT) have proven to be one of the most effective tools in reaching key populations and providing access to testing for HIV, TB, hepatitis, and STI, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the availability of self-tests for HIV created an option for people who might otherwise avoid testing services due to multiple reasons, including stigma and discrimination. However, numerous barriers standing in the way of provision or scaling up of CBVCTs and HIV self-tests still exist in many countries. These barriers include lack of funding, legal and policy barriers imposed by the governments, and high prices for testing kits, including self-tests.
Taking these hurdles into account, AIDS Action Europe (AAE), Centre for Epidemiological Studies of Sexually Transmitted Disease and AIDS in Catalonia (CEEISCAT), and the Milanese unit of the Italian League for Fighting AIDS (LILA Milano) have joined forces in the framework of the COBATEST Network to apply to the “Zeroing In - Ending the HIV Epidemic” call for grants by Gilead. We have received funding for the project "Community Led and Based HIV Services - Key to Ending the HIV Epidemic in Europe and Central Asia". Within the project:
- AIDS Action Europe will assess legal and policy barriers to CBVCT services and HIV self-testing in the countries of the COBATEST Network. The assessment will result in a legal report and a policy brief with recommendations, as well as providing support in the form of a small grant for 6 member organisations from the countries with the most challenging legal environments.
- CEEISCAT will support the COBATEST network members with data collection, analysis, and reporting by developing a new online scheduling and follow-up tool.
- LILA Milano will implement a pilot campaign providing and delivering free self-tests for HIV across Italy. The campaign is hoped to raise awareness and increase the acceptability of HIV self-testing among communities, thus becoming a positive example for other countries.
The findings of the project will be presented in a series of webinars starting in 2023:
1. Advocacy for the provision of CBVCT services and HIV self-testing.
2. Using the COBATEST data collection tool.
3. Good practice exchange: lessons learnt from the Italian campaign on HIV self-testing.
With this project, we aim to increase, adapt, and improve community-based testing services for HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted infections, and to promote the rollout of self-tests in Europe and Central Asia, focusing on those populations where diagnosis and linkage to care are lower than the national average. The project goes in line with the Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026. “End Inequalities. End AIDS”:
Progress in recent years demonstrates the essential role of community-led HIV responses in global efforts to end AIDS. Communities have led efforts to identify and address key inequalities; expanded the evidence base for action to end AIDS as a public health threat…
(Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026. “End Inequalities. End AIDS”)