The Ministry of Health has advised that only healthcare providers sanctioned by the Ministry are authorised to conduct HIV rapid testing in Barbados.
This declaration is in response to reports made to the Ministry about members of the public receiving inaccurate results after being tested by unauthorised providers.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, stressed: “The Ministry of Health is strongly advising that members of the public should not have HIV rapid tests done at private medical facilities unless those facilities have been certified by the Ministry. The National HIV Testing Policy clearly stipulates that HIV rapid testing may only be done by personnel who are trained and certified to conduct such tests.”
She explained that while HIV rapid tests may appear simple to use, they were highly prone to error, which could occur at any point in the testing process, either with the equipment itself or by the person performing the test.
The Chief Medical Officer further explained: “Prior to the introduction of HIV rapid testing, the Ministry of Health went through a process of validation of the HIV rapid test kits currently being used to determine their reliability in the Barbadian population. Not all kits reach the minimum standard of accuracy for this population.”
“The Ministry of Health is strongly advising that members of the public should not have HIV rapid tests done at private medical facilities unless those facilities have been certified by the Ministry.”Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. JohnAs a consequence, she said, some HIV rapid test kits led to a higher rate of false results than others, even if they were used correctly, based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
“The two types of HIV rapid tests currently being used by the Ministry of Health have been validated and there is an ongoing quality assurance programme to maintain accuracy of test results.
“Such rigorous quality monitoring is not done for HIV rapid tests done beyond the auspices of the Ministry of Health. This is why the Ministry has taken a very stringent stance on the use of this technology in Barbados to protect the health of the public,” Dr. St. John stated.
Senior Medical Officer with responsibility for the HIV/STI Programme, Dr. Anton Best, explained that rapid HIV tests were diagnostic tests for HIV, which used either a blood sample or oral fluids, and produced results within as little as 20 to 30 minutes.
He said the HIV testing, counselling, and referrals could be done in one visit. “They are easier to use than conventional laboratory tests and do not require laboratory facilities or highly trained technicians,” he added.
The Senior Medical Officer disclosed that the HIV Rapid Testing Programme started in 2010 and by the end of 2016, just over 13,000 tests were done, with the majority of persons coming forward to be tested being women.
The Ministry of Health carries out HIV rapid testing at select polyclinics, the Ladymeade Reference Unit and for community outreach events.