The status of a child born to an HIV-positive mother can now be known in less than an hour as opposed to two or three weeks as has been the case.
In turn, the children who test positive for HIV will be put on life-saving drugs — antiretroviral therapy (ART) —thus increasing the likelihood that they will survive past their first birthday. Also, many potentially HIV-positive infants who are lost to follow-up can be tested and put on treatment at the health facility on delivery.
This is possible through a new test — Alere q HIV-1/2 Detect assay — that gives results in 52 minutes and may be available in the country. The test can also detect and differentiate between HIV-1 and HIV-2—the two main strains of HIV—and hence appropriate and timely treatment.
According to the head of the Kenya National Aids & STI Control Programme, Dr Martin Sirengo, the ministry is looking at the viability of using the test. He told the Nation: “We are currently evaluating the programmatic and cost implications of this innovation and will provide updates as we move forward.”
VIRUS IN THE BLOOD
The test looks for evidence of the virus in the blood, rather than for antibodies or antigens like other tests. This is because babies born to HIV-positive mothers have the mother’s protective antibodies in their blood and the current tests are not able to distinguish between a mother’s and an infant’s antibodies to detect if a newborn is infected with HIV.
“Testing all children born of HIV-positive mothers is important so that they are put on treatment immediately. HIV-infected children will die if not treated at the rate of 50 per cent deaths in two years and 75 per cent in five years. Any other child who exhibits symptoms of HIV must be screened for HIV irrespective of the mother’s status,” Dr Sirengo added.
The test was used in clinical trials in Mozambique and found to effectively diagnose HIV in infants for ARV treatment.
On the cost for the test, Alere—the US company that developed it—said: “Alere q Detect is competitively priced based on the received actionable results that the technology can deliver.”