Vietnamese health authorities have begun distributing thousands of saliva-based HIV tests throughout the country, delivering a more convenient alternative to those who may need to be tested.
The Ministry of Health is in the process of providing nearly 80,000 saliva-based HIV tests in different areas of the country, according to Vu Hai Son, from the Vietnam Administration of HIV Control.
The majority of the tests are being given in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, though many more are expected to be carried out in the northern province of Thai Nguyen, Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province near Ho Chi Minh City, Son said.
Son underlined that this HIV diagnosis has 100 percent sensitivity and 99 percent specificity.
In medical tests, sensitivity is the ability to identify those with the disease while specificity is the extent to which a test can identify those without the disease.
In the case of the tests being given out by the government, all test results are positive when HIV is present, and 99 percent of test results are negative when the condition is absent.
A disadvantage of the method, he said, is that it is prone to be inaccurate when performed on patients who have undergone antiretroviral therapy – a treatment to maximally suppress the HIV virus and cease the development of HIV disease – for many years.
He advised that those who take the test consider also participating in a blood test in order to obtain conclusive results.
HIV test kits can be purchased online for about US$20 before shipping, but the ministry has been able to purchase them at just one tenth that price following a deal with an American producer, Son said.
“The price is lower than that offered in the U.S. because they have been subsidized. Those who need to have a HIV test can now access newer and faster anonymous home testing before visiting the hospital,” he added.
There has been a decline in the number of children infected with HIV each year in Vietnam, from 500-600 several years ago to an average of 200. The ministry hopes to reduce that figure to 60 in the coming years.
But the percentage of men contracting HIV from having sex with other men (MSM) is increasing in the Southeast Asian country, according to the Vietnam Administration of HIV Control.
The current statistic, Son said, stands at 12 percent; and over 50 percent of HIV-infected people from MSM are under age 22.
About 170,000 people in Vietnam belong to the MSM group, which accounts for 0.7 percent of the 15-49 demographic, Son said.