Implementation of the Project 'Introducing HIV Self-testing in Latvia – Pilot for Key Groups' Launched
On 1 April this year, the Rīga Stradiņš University Institute of Public Health in collaboration with the Baltic HIV Association started the implementation of the WEEPI Foundation-funded project 'Introducing HIV self-testing in Latvia – pilot for key groups' with the aim to pilot and evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of HIV self-testing in socially vulnerable groups: injection drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers, victims of violence, recipients of municipal social services.
To reach the target groups more successfully and provide them with free HIV self-testing (using saliva HIV self-tests or at-home HIV testing kits), it is planned to cooperate with partner organisations - DIA+LOGS, Marta Centre, State Probation Service and Riga Social Service.
On 22 May, the first meeting was held, during which the representatives of the partner organisations were introduced to the aim of the project, planned activities, organisational process, passing of the HIV self-testing kits to clients, etc. It is expected that within the framework of the project, HIV self-tests will be provided to 250 individuals from the target groups. After the self-test, the participants will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about their experience of HIV self-testing and the acceptability of the test. Some participants will also be invited for in-depth interviews.
Dr Santa Ansone, an expert at the RSU Institute of Public Health, introduces the HIV self-testing guidelines
Why this project?
Latvia is among the European Union (EU) countries where the prevalence of HIV infection remains very high (around three cases per 1000 people). In 2020, the number of newly registered HIV cases in Latvia was 13.5 per 100,000 people, the second highest in the EU and 4.1 times higher than the EU average. Heterosexual sexual contact is the most common route of HIV infection, accounting for 63 % of all registered cases with a known route of transmission. Injection drug use accounts for 24 % of HIV infections, while 11% of infections are among men who have sex with men. Approximately 30 % of HIV cases in Latvia are undiagnosed.
These data are logically linked to the fact that Latvia has one of the lowest HIV testing rates in the EU. It should be underlined that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of tests in 2020 has decreased by 6 % (compared to 2019).
It is therefore essential to promote HIV testing among the population in Latvia, including by finding new and innovative testing strategies. To promote the introduction of new HIV testing methods in Latvia, it is important to identify factors that could influence the future implementation of the strategy. It is important to investigate the feasibility and acceptability of the new method – HIV self-testing. Currently, HIV self-tests are only available to the Latvian population for a fee in pharmacies.