•Mystery shoppers aged between 16 and 24 years were recruited and received two days of training before going to a pharmacy or clinic to buy a self-testing kit.
•Such kits were hawked cheaply, at Sh150 apiece, as opposed to the Sh500 kits approved by the Ministry of Health.
Kenyans who test HIV positive using the self-testing kits should go to a health facility to confirm the results, specialists have advised.
While the approved kits are highly accurate, bogus kits are slowly creeping into the market.
A recent survey in Nairobi and Mombasa showed a growing prevalence of non-approved kits, mostly imported from South Africa or China.
Researchers designed a mystery shopper exercise involving 55 private sector providers in Nairobi and Mombasa. Shoppers aged between 16 and 24 were recruited. They received two-day of training before going to a pharmacy or clinic to buy a self-testing kit.
The shoppers found that many private facilities tried to sell them unregistered kits. Such kits were hawked cheaply at Sh150 apiece instead of the Sh500 kits approved by the Ministry of Health.
"Providers tried to influence the choice of testing kit, for instance promoting a non-quality-assured kit, stating that it was cheaper [Sh150] and gave faster results than the quality-assured self-test," shows the survey conducted by local health NGO PSI.
Only two brands of home test kits branded OraQuick and INSTI are approved for sale in Kenya for about Sh500 in private facilities.
OraQuick detects antibodies for HIV and not the virus. Users swipe the test swab along the gums to get results in 20 minutes, at 93 per cent sensitivity rate.
Researchers said 13 per cent of the facilities did not have any quality-assured kits in stock at the time of the visit.
"Three facilities attempted to sell non-quality assured testing kits, including repacked testing assays and non-approved kits manufactured in China or South Africa," says the survey, conducted by Christine Oduor and three other researchers.
The mystery shoppers said many sellers gave inaccurate information when trying to influence the choice of testing kits.
"Approximately half of the individuals did not receive satisfactory answers to questions about self-testing," says the survey, which has not been published yet.
The private clinics may also be conning Kenyans by selling the kits at inflated prices, says the survey titled, Private Sector HIV Self-Testing in Kenya: Insights from a Mystery Shopper Study.
Other researchers who took part in the survey are Kristen Little, Heather Awsumb, and Hildah Essendi.
Last year, the National Aids and STIs Control Programme said providers must be trained on how to interpret the results.
“A wrongly done or interpreted test could lead to false negatives, a case where the tester is infected but gets a result that he is not,” said Mary Mugambi, head of testing at Nascop.
The World Health Organization also discourages making an HIV positive diagnosis from a single test.
"False reactive [positive] test results can also occur due to a degree of cross-reactivity with other pathogens such as schistosomiasis or trypanosomiasis [African sleeping sickness]," WHO says in its self-testing kits advisory.