New technology to ease HIV viral load tests

A new technology will ease viral load tests, making results available in a matter of minutes, as well as being usable by personnel that are not laboratory-trained in facilities that are not typical laboratory environments.

Viral load tests measure the amount of HIV copies in the blood of a patient, thereby determining the type of Anti-Retroviral Treatment that will be effective.
With technology that has been available, it has been taking several weeks for patients to get their viral load results since tests would be carried out in central laboratory facilities, a situation that required transportation of blood samples from different health facilities to the central lab, before the results would be sent back to the patients.
“In some circumstances it is fine (to wait for the results longer), but there are times where you want the results on the same day; for instance, for a woman that is going to deliver, we need to know whether her viral load is suppressed or not because it determines her chance of transmitting HIV to the infant,” said Dr Kuku Appiah, the Director of Medical and Scientific Affairs - Abbot Rapid Diagnostics, a branch of Abbott Laboratories - an American health care company that is championing the technology.
Dr Appiah was in Rwanda on July 4 and presented the solution to the health sector actors.
In an interview with Sunday Times, she said that the new technology miniaturizes the viral load laboratory, making it possible for tests to be easily carried out in smaller healthcare facilities that are not full laboratory settings and by personnel that are not lab trained, and results can be obtained in 70 minutes.
“It provides very accurate results that are comparable to the ones you would get from a laboratory,” she said.
“But the difference is that it can be done in a rural clinic and by someone who is not laboratory trained.”
She highlighted the ease of using the technology, since there is no user interaction needed, no use of laboratory reagents, and no need for air conditioning.
Dubbed “m-PIMA,” the technology has been prequalified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Appiah said that some of their rapid diagnostic solutions are already being used in Rwanda as part of the early infant diagnosis in cases of babies that are born to HIV positive women.
According to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, viral load testing is the ‘gold standard’ for HIV treatment monitoring. The tests provide an accurate way of determining whether antiretroviral therapy is working to suppress replication of the virus.
Achieving viral suppression protects the body’s immune system, helps people living with HIV to stay healthy and prevents transmission of HIV to other people.
In 2013, WHO recommended viral load testing as the preferred monitoring tool for diagnosing and confirming antiretroviral therapy failure.
WHO recommends viral load monitoring of 6 and 12 months after initiating antiretroviral therapy and annually thereafter for people who are stable.

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