Hope for HIV infected babies

HARARE - Thousands of Zimbabwe’s newly-born babies who are exposed or are infected with HIV at birth now have a better chance of survival following the introduction of an onsite Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) service.

With the current testing methods, some results for HIV-exposed infants are not available before four to eight weeks.

And due to the aggressive nature of the HIV infection in infants, unless diagnosed and treated early, half of infected babies die before reaching the age of two.

This comes after Health minister, David Parirenyatwa, yesterday announced the roll-out of HIV point-of-care machines, which target infants.

A total of 100 machines will be installed across Zimbabwe — serving at least 100 000 people annually countrywide.

The point-of-care Simple Amplification Based Assay (Samba) HIV test will be procured through the Global Fund support and will be deployed to at least 25 sites.

“For the first time, patients in rural areas can be tested for HIV viral load at the point-of-care and know their status within two hours,” Parirenyatwa said in a statement.

However, the Samba HIV technology will provide accurate early infant diagnosis from a heel-prick sample, allowing early treatment and thereby reducing the “lost to follow-up” rate.

The HIV infection rate in Zimbabwe can be as high as 15 percent in some areas, with almost 60 000 women living with HIV falling pregnant each year.

“We will increase HIV viral load coverage from the current five percent to 50 percent by the end of 2017, with the aim of reaching 90 percent by 2019. In order to achieve these ambitious targets, 60 percent of HIV viral load testing will need to be carried out at point-of-care. Consequently, the successful implementation of Samba in Zimbabwe will play an important role considering the reduced costs of Samba machines,” Parirenyatwa said.

The wide-scale adoption of Samba HIV rapid test will complement the already existing viral load capacity tests.

According to Parirenyatwa, both Samba HIV tests — one for HIV treatment monitoring and the other for early infant diagnosis — have been evaluated in “real world” settings in several sub-Saharan African countries including Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Kenya.

“As a result, Diagnostics for the Real World will be able to donate additional machines used in these programmes . . . ,” he said.

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