The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Device to Test HIV Immunity Unveiled

A new device that determines the immunity levels of people with HIV within 20 minutes is now in Kenya. The portable device that provides an absolute CD4 count within such a short duration was launched by researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi.

Kemri scientist Wafula Kellern said the new device, Alere Pima, will help break the HIV infection cycle earlier. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that fight infection and the lower they are the more progressive HIV is in the patient's body.

Currently, it can take several weeks to test the CD4 count in Kenya, delaying treatment for thousands of people. "With increased prevention of the virus, reduction in the spread of the virus and the ability to live a long, healthy life, there are more reasons to be positive," said Wafula. The point- of-care test is important because individuals who are unaware of their infection are nearly four times more likely to infect others.

People can only be put on life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs once their CD4 count and viral load have been established. The new kit is manufactured by US-based company, Alere Healthcare. Wafula said Alere and the Population Service International will use this gadget to promote testing. "Our goal is to have at least 1 million people being screened for HIV and know their status. In essence, we are empowering you at the point-of-care to screen for HIV infection earlier than ever before," said Wafula, who is also the customer support executive at the company.

There are estimated 1.5 million Kenyans living with HIV, but only about 580,000 are on ARVs, according to the National Aids Control Council. Alere said yesterday the device is designed for remote places. "This enables more patients to access a CD4 result, and reduces both the number of patients lost to follow-up and the time to initiate antiretroviral therapy," the company said in a statement. HIV can destroy entire "families" of CD4 cells if the cells count is not established early to initiate treatment, according to researchers. The virus then easily takes over. That is when opportunistic infections are likely to develop.

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