ZIM SCORES ANOTHER HIV FIRST
Zimbabwe is the first country in the world to use the latest medical technology in HIV infant diagnosis and viral load testing, The Herald can reveal.
Speaking after the training of certified laboratory technicians and scientists on how to use the Samba 11 machines, Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said he was confident that the country would successfully make the desired impact of increasing the number of infants tested and treated of HIV through this innovation.
He said Government was also hoping to monitor effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in HIV positive people with a view to put them on efficacious regimens, which can reduce their viral load to undetectable levels in line with global targets.
“We have a total of 1,4 million people living with HIV and of those, 1,1 million people are on ARVs and as you know the treatment has cascaded from 1st line, 2nd line and 3rd line treatment. So we should be able to follow up when you are put on ARVs; that are they working on you?
“The only way to find out is to see the viral load, when its going up it means the medication that you are taking is not working.
“This is the beauty of the Samba 11 machine, it is really to follow up on our patients to see the efficacy in treatment, improve our patient care, the quality of treatment and the extent of the resistance that we are facing,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
He said although the country’s HIV burden was on a decline, the number of new infections were still high, hence the need to continue implementing effective ways of curbing further spread of the virus.
“The Samba machine is the one that has been selected and Zimbabwe as you know is the first one to use the point of care machines in the world.
“We are the pioneer in this medical innovation and you (technicians and scientists) will be the trainers of trainers. You will be the experts in using point of care machines,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Government procured 100 point of care machines, which will be distributed to 25 districts across all provinces.
Secretary for Health and Child Care Dr Gerald Gwinji, who is also chairperson of the Global Fund to Fight Aids Tuberculosis and Malaria, said this decentralisation was made possible with funding from the Global Fund.
Dr Gwinji said introduction of point of care machines was meant to improve access while upholding equity to health services for all Zimbabweans.
He said the country’s response to HIV has come a long way from initiating people on ARVs using CD4 count testing to the current innovation of using viral load testing, and all these have contributed to the country’s HIV success story.
“Zimbabwe’s HIV history has come a long way from a high of 31 percent prevalence rate to the current 13,6 percent using different response efforts.
“It is development of such technologies that are able to respond to current trends in management of HIV that we are keen to pursue and implement,” said Dr Gwinji.
Head of Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Owen Mugurungi said Zimbabwe has since become a world case study with its successful HIV programme which has seen its prevalence rate dropping from a high of 31 percent in 1999 to the current 13,6 percent.
He said with the coming in of Samba 11 machines, Government will be able to provide a complete package of HIV management on site regardless of where one is seeking treatment from.
“We will now be having complete treatment and management of HIV happening right from primary care levels. Issues of handling samples, having people travelling from point A to point B, patients going for weeks without getting their results and sometimes losing people to follow up will now be a thing of the past.
“The people out there do matter the same as the people at the centre of the town,” said Dr Mugurungi.
Medical laboratory director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Mr Douglas Mangwanya said his department was committed to support this national initiative.
“We want to make sure that we shine because the whole world is watching,” he said.
He said Government will be presenting a report sometime in July to other countries in the world on how it would have fared with the machines.
Diagnostics for the Real World (DRW) director and founder Professor Helen Lee said she was confident that Zimbabwe will have another success story to share with the world.
DRW in partnership with the University of Cambridge are the developers of this technology.
“I am truly impressed by the scientific, technical and organisational ability of the health system that I have seen here in Zimbabwe and that gives me great confidence but also I sense a kind of alignment from the technicians all the way to the top leadership in the department of health.
“So with this kind of background and support I am sure that the Samba 11 machine will make a difference because it is really the innovation that speaks to the needs of the people,” said Professor Lee.