13 Sep 2016 18:20pm
WINDHOEK, 13 SEP (NAMPA) More than 160,000 HIV viral load tests were done in the public sector in 2015, covering an estimated 71 per cent of eligible patients.
Viral load testing, which measures the amount of viral genetic material in a blood sample, is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for monitoring the treatment of patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART).
The Minister of Health and Social Services Bernard Haufiku released these statistics during the opening of a four-day HIV viral load test workshop on Tuesday.
Haufiku said despite the success of 71 per cent, there are still some challenges.
The main gaps in scaling up viral load testing to all patients on ART are limited access to testing due to viral load testing capacity at existing labs and long distances between health facilities in some remote areas and labs, he said.
In order to address these challenges, with support from the United States (US) Presidents Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Government is increasing lab capacity for viral load testing in sites that include Windhoek; Oshakati; Rundu; Katima Mulilo; Engela; Onandjokwe; Outapi; and Walvis Bay.
The Ministry of Health and the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) are working to strengthen specimen collection transportation system from health facilities to the labs and using dried blood spots for specimen collection, especially at the most remote sites. This will shorten the time to return viral load test results to health facilities through the use of SMS printers in 152 sites and web portals.
To improve utilisation of viral load test results for patient management and health facilities, the ministry has adopted the routine training of clinical staff through routine site visits by clinical mentors and the use of distance learning through project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO).
Speaking at the same occasion, the United States (US) Ambassador to Namibia, Thomas Daughton noted that when PEPFAR begun its partnership with the Namibian Government in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2003, nearly one in four adults were infected with the virus.
He placed emphasis on the importance of bringing quality testing and treatment closer to the affected.
One of the things we have learned in more than a decade of living HIV side by side with the Namibian Government, is that in order to achieve our common goal of epidemic control, patients living with HIV have to be able to receive quality care and quality testing close to homes.
In addition to scaling up access to viral load testing, PEPFAR Namibia is supporting innovative strategies to improve quick return of results from the lab to health care providers so that they can use the results for better management of their patients.
Our hope is that these investments will result in significant improvement in the quality of and access to HIV service in Namibia,
The conference ends Friday.