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WHO Advocates for HIV Self-Testing

FILE - Test cards and health observation books are used by health agents to conduct blood test for HIV infection to residents in a village Cambodia's Kandal province, Feb 22, 2016. (Photo: Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Forty percent of the people with HIV globally are unaware they are infected, the World Health Organization said in a statement Tuesday, two days ahead of World AIDS Day.

The WHO is advocating for broader access to self-testing kits to make it easier for those at risk to determine whether they are infected.

"HIV self-testing should open the door for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

The report cited studies which found that providing self-testing kits nearly doubles the chances of men who have sex with men getting tested. Another report showed access to home-tests in Kenya doubled the chances that partners of pregnant women would be tested.

These kits require oral fluid or blood from a finger prick and provide results in about 20 minutes, according to the WHO. The agency advises those whose results are positive to seek confirmation tests at a clinic.

Self-testing would be particularly beneficial to populations that face a wide variety of barriers to testing centers; however, many of the financial constraints which prevent access to testing and treatment may similarly impede access to self-testing kits.

Still, the WHO noted significant improvements in HIV awareness and treatment in the past decade. In 2005, just 12 percent of those infected with HIV knew they had the AIDS virus. Last year, the number climbed to 60 percent. Additionally, 80 percent of those who know they are HIV-positive are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Wide-scale implementation of self-testing remains limited, but 23 countries currently have policies in place supporting it, and many other nations are developing similar policies.