THE unavailability of the DNA PCR machine – which tests HIV in infants – has hampered early diagnosis of the virus in children amid indications that there is only one machine in the country where all samples are processed.
This threatens to scuttle the country’s ambitious target of eliminating mother-to-child-transmission by the year 2015 which, according to the World Health Organisation standards, is above 95 percent coverage. The national coverage stands at 42 percent.
All samples are currently being taken to Harare Central Hospital, which is the only institution with the machine which is said to be expensive.
Paediatric ART expert Dr. Thembinkosi Ncomanzi told journalists recently at a workshop organised by the National AIDS Council that the country was poised to meet the target but shortage of the DNA PCR machine was slowing the response to HIV and AIDS in children.
“We have only one centre testing for HIV in children and that is at Harare Central Hospital where all the samples from across the country are process. That takes a long time,” he said.
He said testing for adults was easy through rapid testing which is antibody-based but could not be used for children because they carry their mother’s antibodies up to 18 months after birth by which time the disease would have progressed.
Progression in children is rapid.
Director of the AIDS and TB unit in the Health and Child Welfare Ministry Dr. Owen Mugurungi said there are about 47 000 children that need testing but they could not be immediately reached because the technology is not widely available.
“Early infant diagnosis is important in our response to HIV and AIDS, especially when looking at children. We do not have the technology that is needed. Ideally the tests should be done at facility level as we now do with adults,” he said.
He said until the facilities are available the country would lose at least 30 percent of children in their first year as the results are taking ‘too long’ to be processed to ensure universal access of treatment and care. At least 65 000 women get pregnant every year and about 90 percent of them go for antenatal care.