The announcement by the Ministry of Health to experiment with instant test of babies for HIV status is a significant step. Children can now be tested immediately after delivery unlike before where test samples had to be transported to central health laboratories, tested, and results brought back after days.
Although this pilot project starts with selected health units across the country, it promises a lot in increased babies’ chances of survival. The current early infant diagnosis is ineffective. This is because while more than 40 per cent of babies are tested HIV-positive, they cannot be followed up and put on treatment because test results are delayed in central laboratories, according to minister of state for Primary Health Sarah Opendi.
This is why the introduction of the new SAMBA II machine and instant test of babies for HIV status is welcome. SAMBA II gives hope to tens of thousands of babies who have a 50 per cent chance of early deaths if HIV infection in them is not diagnosed within the first six weeks of life.
If well managed, SAMBA II should improve access, early diagnosis, treatment and management of HIV in babies. Research indicates that the new machine is highly sensitive, can test all HIV-subtypes and yields easy-to-read results using smart phone applications.
This means parents and custodians should not allow instances where more than 40 per cent of HIV-positive babies cannot be followed up and put on treatment. As the project is implemented, it is crucial to raise mass awareness about it.
Like it is with most pilot projects, the Ministry of Health should conduct exhaustive awareness drives to ensure parents, custodians and caregivers adopt the campaign. As spokesperson of Baylor Uganda Paul Mayende says, many parents with HIV-positive children are hesitant to take them for early HIV-testing for fear of discrimination. But parents should be educated that early detection of HIV helps reduce mortality rates among babies.
Current statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that at least 8,000 new HIV infections were registered in children last year alone. This is worrisome. As parents, there is need to overcome the fear of stigma and have babies tested to ensure early detection, treatment and management at birth and at first health facility contact. This, according to health experts, will give babies higher chances of survival.
Let’s embrace these highly portable and mobile SAMBA II machines since they diagnose HIV and produce quick results within only two hours for babies and 90 minutes for adults. The next step is for the ministry to ensure that these machines are accessible to more health facilities countrywide.
The issue: HIV testing.
Our view: As parents, there is need to overcome the fear of stigma and have babies tested to ensure early detection, treatment and management at birth and at first health facility contact.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor