Objective: To review HIV testing and counseling policies and practices in the World Health Organization's (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Region.
Methods: We reviewed gray and published literature on HIV testing policies and practices in the 22 countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, including surveillance, monitoring and evaluation reports. Missing or unclear information was clarified by telephone interviews of key informants. Field observations were conducted in four countries.
Results: Of reported diagnostic HIV tests conducted in the Eastern Mediterranean Region from 1995 to 2008, 59.3% were carried out on migrant workers. Only 4.0% were carried out on key populations at higher risk for HIV and 8.1% were conducted in sexually transmitted infection, tuberculosis and antenatal care services. The largest proportions of HIV-positive cases identified were among key populations at higher risk (23.4%) and in sexually transmitted infection, tuberculosis and antenatal care services (17.5%). Mandatory testing was the most common approach to identifying HIV-positive cases, yet most policy documents reviewed identified voluntary counseling and testing as a key intervention for prevention, care and treatment. Provider initiated testing and counseling was rarely considered. HIV testing strategies are cumbersome, as they require central laboratory-based Enzyme Linked Immuno-Sorbant Assay (ELISA) and/or Western Blot confirmation in most countries presenting barriers to receiving results.
Conclusion: Although policies in the Eastern Mediterranean Region include a mix of mandatory and voluntary HIV testing, mandatory testing predominates, especially for migrant and foreign workers and key populations at higher risk of HIV. There is a paucity of programs providing voluntary testing. Strategies to enhance access to true voluntary HIV testing and counseling services are urgently needed, particularly targeting key populations at higher risk.