Paidamoyo Chipunza and Sibongile Maruta
Government, in partnership with Diagnostics for the Real World, has started training laboratory technicians selected from different primary healthcare facilities to conduct early infant diagnosis of HIV and viral load testing using newly-procured machines.
The four-day training, which started yesterday in Harare, will see about 50 laboratory technicians receiving skills on how to use the machines for both viral load testing and infant diagnosis, leading to implementation of the project within the next month. Government recently procured 100 machines, which will soon be installed in selected districts soon after the training of the technicians.
Deputy director for laboratory services in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Mr Raiva Simbi said the new machines were expected to facilitate quick diagnosis of infants exposed to HIV, with a view to initiate early treatment. Mr Simbi said previously, it would take parents from districts at least three months before they got results of their children’s status, a situation that delayed commencement of treatment of HIV positive infants.
“Previously, technicians would take samples from parents upon giving birth, send these samples to the National Reference Laboratory here in Harare. The samples would then be booked for testing among other samples from across the country,” he said. Mr Simbi said on a monthly basis, the National Laboratory would handle at least 8 000 samples of blood tests.
“The Samba machines will go a long way in diagnosing infants born to HIV positive mothers, leading to earlier commencement on treatment in line with the new Government policy on test and treat, thereby reducing infant mortality,” said Mr Simbi.
He said the same machines would be used to conduct viral load testing, again reducing the waiting period HIV patients spend before they know how they were responding to treatment. Viral load testing is one way of assessing medicine effectiveness. People were going for up to three months before they got a chance to get tested owing to limited viral load testing machines.
Head of Aids and Tuberculosis in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Owen Mugurungi said Government will keep exploring all avenues necessary in ending Aids by 2030, and ensuring that all people who needed antiretrovirals were on treatment.
He said one of Government’s targets was to ensure that all people on ARVs had their viral load suppressed to undetectable levels and the Samba machines came in handy when monitoring such progress. With regards to children diagnosis, Dr Mugurungi said slightly above 50 percent of children with HIV were on treatment and one of the challenges was diagnosis.
He said with the new machines, Government was hoping to increase the number of children commenced on ART. Professor Helen Lee from Diagnostics for the Real World said the Samba technology was designed to suit resource-limited settings in Southern Africa. She said this technology was easy to use by health professionals and has a mechanism to store power in case of electricity disruptions.