Successful HIV testing campaigns in Ethiopia are showing a ten-fold jump in the number of people testing each year since 2005.
"Currently, 36 percent of women and 38 percent of men have ever been tested and received their test results,” the latest Demographic and Health Survey noted. ”Twenty percent of women and 21 percent of men have been tested for HIV and received their results in the 12 months before the [latest] survey," published in March 2012.
"HIV testing has increased ten-fold since the 2005 EDHS [Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey], when just 2 percent of women and men had been tested and received their results in the 12 months before the survey."
First launched in 1999, HIV counselling and testing has been expanding - more than 2,300 sites now provide counselling and testing services across the country. Ethiopia uses both client- and provider-initiated testing, as well as community outreach testing and facility-based testing.
Data from the recent EDHS also indicated that out of 6,000 cohabiting couples who tested for HIV, 98.3 percent were HIV-negative, 0.6 percent were both HIV-positive, and 1.1 percent of couples were HIV discordant.
"The good thing these days is almost everybody has heard of condoms and most of them know how to use them properly. The problem is, a few months or years later young couples stop using condoms, relying on the time they know each other, without taking an HIV test," said Aberash Yalew, a counsellor at Arada subcity in the capital, Addis Ababa.
According to experts, couples counselling and testing needs a boost. "Most only come for a test when they plan to travel abroad and testing is put as a condition. Hardly any couples come when they decide to stop using condoms."
Aberash noted that cultural norms often prevented parents from discussing sex with their children, which meant many young people were ill-informed when they started having sex. "The belief that their kids would not have sex before they get married is still so many parents' - even if they may suspect otherwise, they choose to ignore the prevailing fact," she said.
"We need to do more, especially to increase comprehensive knowledge of people about HIV/AIDS, and in urban areas we need to work more to change the behaviour of people with multiple sex partners who are engaged in unsafe sex,” said State Minister of Health Dr Keseteberhan Admasu. “We are doing that and we want to do more, including making voluntary counselling and testing more accessible."
Donors, too, say they are placing more emphasis on counselling and testing. "The Unites States Government’s support to HIV counselling and testing has expanded from 564,407 in 2006 to 5.5 million in 2011," said Diane Brandt, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Addis Ababa.
Brandt says major progress in the expansion and uptake of counselling and testing was recorded after the Millennium AIDS Campaign, which ran from November 2006 to September 2008. "The campaign created huge demand - from a half million testing in a year to millions," she noted.
The EDHS found that the national average HIV prevalence has remained low at 1.5 percent, but in urban areas the rate is 5.2 percent, which is significantly higher than the 0.8 percent generally found in rural areas.