'Inadequate equipment pushing up HIV/Aids treatment cost'

MUTARE - Lack of access to viral load count (VLC) machines is driving up the country’s costs of managing the HIV /Aids epidemic, a health rights group has said.

Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV (ZNPP+) Manicaland Provincial Coordinator Lloyd Dembure told the Daily News last week that only five percent of people infected with HIV are accessing the VLCs.

“Most people are unnecessarily being switched to more expensive second line treatment on the basis of inconclusive data from CD4 count interpretations pushing up the cost of managing HIV,” Dembure said.

He said while CD4 Count machines are important, they do not accurately measure the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs compared to (VLC).

“CD4 count does not measure the actual picture of how a person is responding to treatment while viral load counts look at the actual viral activity in the body,” Dembure said.

The ZNPP+ official said Manicaland, which has over 90 000 people on antiretroviral drugs, has four viral load count machines most of which are routinely broken and often prioritise people with low CD4 counts.

“The quality of HIV/Aids service is very poor without adequate equipment and we are losing many people whose lives could have been saved if they could access the requisite services in time.”

Dembure said the situation is likely to worsen as more people are enrolled onto antiretroviral drugs due to the ongoing “test and treat” campaign.

According to Dembure, an increase in the viral load in the body could be a result of either treatment failure or poor adherence, something that could be picked up by VLCs.

“Without viral load counts it means viral levels stay high for long periods of time without any interventions.

“Basically, we are currently only relying on clinical presentation of the disease which means we would be too late for an effective medical response,” he said.

ZNPP+ field officer Evellyn Chamisa said they are worried with the poor levels of appreciating the importance of viral load counts even among people living with HIV and health workers.

“We did a survey that revealed that only two percent of people on antiretroviral therapy knew what a viral load was but more worrying was that even professional medical service providers were not conversant with viral load count data.

“Most of them were not able to properly interpret the viral load results,” Chamisa said.

Dembure said the absence of the critical service meant the country was far from realising the 2030 HIV/Aids management targets.

“As it is, we are far from achieving the 90-90-90 targets where as a country we want to have 90 percent of people who have the infection knowing their status, 90 percent of them placed on antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of them having a suppressed viral load,” Dembure said.

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