Tue Nov 29, 2016 07:08PM
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan speaks during the opening ceremony of the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai, China November 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan speaks during the opening ceremony of the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai, China November 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that nearly half of all people carrying the HIV virus worldwide are unaware of their infection, urging more extensive access to at-home testing kits.

The UN-affiliated health agency stated on Tuesday that 40 percent of the individuals infected with the virus that causes AIDS, or more than 14 million people across the globe, do not realize they are carrying the virus, citing 2015 estimates.

Yet, according to WHO, the figure reflects a major improvement over just a decade earlier, when only 12 percent of HIV-infected people were estimated to be aware of carrying the virus, AFP reported.

WHO Chief Margaret Chan warned that since so many of those infected are unaware of their status, "millions of people with HIV are still missing out on life-saving treatment, which can also prevent HIV transmission to others."

She further added, "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."

HIV self-testing means that people can, in the privacy of their own homes, use oral fluid or blood from a finger prick to determine their status in a matter of minutes.

According to the report, continued lack of diagnosis remains to be a major obstacle to employing WHO's recommendation for everyone with HIV to be offered anti-retroviral therapy, or ART.

Today, it adds, more than 80 percent of everyone diagnosed with HIV is receiving ART.

Meanwhile, WHO has urged anyone who tests positive to seek confirmatory tests at a health clinic, where they can obtain information about the disease and how to get counseling, as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment and care services.

"By offering HIV self-testing, we can empower people to find out their own HIV status and also to notify their partners and encourage them to get tested as well," Gottfried Hirnschall, the head of WHO's HIV department, said in a statement.

The European Union and the WHO also reported on Tuesday that one in seven people with HIV in Europe is unaware of their infection, as 2015 marked another record year for new HIV cases in the region.

According to the WHO’s latest estimates, Europe registered 153,407 new cases, up from 142,000 in 2014, a surge driven by cases in Russia and immigrants who acquired the virus after arriving in the continent.