Not enough HIV-testing kits to meet demand, government

With health centres reopening across Liberia after 14 years of fighting and AIDS awareness on the rise, Liberia is running out of HIV-testing kits to meet rising demand, according to the government-run National AIDS Control Programme (NACP).

"There is high demand right now for the test kits, because more and more health facilities are being opened in rural areas that were previously inaccessible owing to the civil conflict and mass sensitisation campaigns across the country have encouraged more people to turn out to know their HIV/AIDS status," Dr Eugene Dolopei, the head of NACP told PlusNews.

But he warned that Liberia was rapidly running out of equipment to test the 2,000 or so people who report to 30 government and church-owned testing centres each month to determine their HIV status.

Dolopei said Liberia needed another 1,600 HIV testing kits - each containing 100 individual tests - to last the country until May 2006.

NACP currently has just 11 kits left from a batch donated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - enough to test just 1,100 people.

"Because of this situation, the government through the NACP, has been appealing to donors to provide more test kits to Liberia," he said.

The shortage of HIV testing equipment was highlighted by a recent survey of AIDS treatment in Liberia, carried out by an independent expert on behalf of WHO in June.

That Rapid Assessment of Voluntary Confidential Counselling & Testing (VCCT) concluded that Liberia lacked a coherent overall strategy to fight HIV/AIDS as it struggled to recover from a devastating 1989-2003 civil war.

"[In Liberia there is a] lack of a national plan of action to define the direction for VCCT...non-standardised training materials for the training of counsellors and low capacity of the national response to coordinate VCCT activities," it said.

Of the 30 voluntary testing centres operational since the end of civil war in 2003, the majority are in the capital Monrovia, according to NACP.

UNAIDS estimates that 5.9 percent of Liberia's 3 million population is living with the virus, but no reliable surveys have been conducted since the civil war ended two years ago.

Many doctors fear the real HIV prevalence rate is much higher.

Dolopei warned that the true figure could only be clarified with nation-wide testing, which included returning refugees.

An estimated 350,000 Liberians fled to other West African countries during the conflict, but tens of thousands have been streaming home since the fighting ended.