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Cry of HIV patients over lack of test kit

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 01:55 | By
A patient goes through a laboratory test. PD/file

Aids patients yesterday said they are not aware of the amount of the HIV virus in their blood. They said screening for the viral load samples (amount of HIV in the bloodstream) stalled two years ago due to a stock-out of reagents. 

They called on the government to fast-track clearance of this backlog. It also emerged that over the past two years, most of the 1.5 million HIV patients have been unable to know their viral load due to a stock-out of testing reagents, attributed to declining funds.

But the government has been trying to clear this backlog over the past two months,.

James Kamau, chief executive officer of Kenya Treatment Access Movement (KETAM), said that it may take long to clear the backlog which dates back to late 2019. But there are hopes this situation could ease by the end of the year, he said.

“We still have many people queuing. There was a big backlog of viral load reagents, and that was due to funding, mainly because the government was the one paying but had not factored the same in the budget.

“However, now they have ratified, and in the past two months we have seen some efforts towards clearance of the backlog,” he said on the sidelines of this year’s national leadership summit of people living with HIV in Nairobi.

He urged the government to include procurement of viral load reagents in the budget.

“It is unfortunate that with such a backlog, it will take long for Kenyans to know the amount of HIV in their blood since the available funding is for drugs only,” he noted.

He appealed to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) to have a package where people on treatment for HIV can be covered for viral load reagents.

Many of the delegates said the backlog is affecting their response to treatment.

“This is instilling fear in young people, especially women of reproductive age. If unaware of their viral load, they can easily transmit the virus to their children,” said Edith Nyambura, executive director of the Most at Risk Young Mothers and Teenage Girls Living With HIV Initiative (MOYOTE).

She expressed fear that, in the next few years, many children could be born with HIV if this situation is not redressed.

MOYOTE has a membership of 3,724 — mostly young women aged 15 to 29 years. Nyambura said that in the past six years, this group has given birth to 200 children.

“We need to have the test results as fast as possible so that we can protect these people from the severity of HIV,” she said, calling for restocking of adequate reagents to facilitate a quick turn-around time.

Ahead of the World Aids Day tomorrow, the HIV patients told the government to ensure medical facilities are stocked with viral-load test reagents.

One of the challenges in viral load testing is the price, which is relatively expensive compared to other laboratory tests.

Pricing of viral-load tests is reportedly much higher, making scale-up much less affordable. The cost per test is estimated at Sh10,000 to Sh20,000, depending on the hospital.

The National Empowerment Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK) executive director, Nelson Otwoma, said that although ARV supply is stabilising, viral load testing has stagnated. 

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