I enjoy when celebrities like Oprah Winfrey get tested for HIV, as she did in January around the opening of her new girls academy in Capetown, South Africa. Great publicity, and just what we need when stigma and lack of access remain tremendous barriers to people of all ages who want to know their HIV status.
What would it mean to test everyone in a country for HIV? In Lesotho, the Know Your Status effort that kicked off in 2006 aims to go door-to-door to test everyone over age 12. This kind of national effort is relatively recent, and part of the shift from client-initiated to provider-initiated counseling and testing (PICT—an abbreviation I just discovered and no doubt one you will be hearing more of). But this effort is not limited to small nations like Lesotho. The U.S. CDC revised its HIV testing guidelines in September 2006 to recommend voluntary HIV testing to all U.S. residents between the ages of 13 and 64.
These kinds of national policies can have a real impact, especially for young people. VCT is one of those interventions that actually work for youth, as the UNAIDS IATT report Preventing AIDS in Young People points out. Of course, VCT only works if youth can actually obtain the service. Young people want to get tested, but most lack access.
Note to Lesotho and other countries: if you want to reach the young with VCT, mind the special circumstances that young people find themselves in. To the extent possible, VCT efforts aimed at youth should be youth-friendly, that is, incorporating specific training, materials, and messages geared toward youth. Don’t forget about obtaining proper consent—an issue with adolescents, as it is for all ages. And keep those results confidential—an outcome of utmost importance to young people.
For more, read youth-policy.com’s VCT fact sheet and browse our policy database.