Software speeds HIV diagnosis

With the new software system, the
results of blood samples from babies
can be known within a week, while
beforehand it could take about 18 weeks
for them to reach the rural health centres.
(Image: Doctors Without Borders)

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Ray Maota

Students from Strathmore University, in Kenya, have developed a software system that helps in the quick diagnosing of HIV in infants in rural Kenya.

The software has already been implemented in 75 health centres in the most rural parts of the country in its first phase trial. Kenya has 904 listed public health centres in total.

The success of this software will mean that the HIV diagnosis turnaround time for infants will be accelerated – at present, parents wait 18 weeks, or over four months, for their children’s results.

Silvia Kadima, a research scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) HIV laboratory, said: “We are projecting that by April this year, the software tool will be customised to Kenya’s local needs, and that is when it will be officially launched and rolled out by the government.”

The project is being funded by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (Chai). Chai is a global health organisation committed to strengthening integrated health systems in the developing world and expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.

Kadima said that 50 more health centres would be connected for further trial phases before the product was officially launched later this year.

“Diagnosis of infants within six weeks of birth allows timely initiation of antiretroviral therapy [ART] of children below two years old and can save lives. Without ART, up to 50% of children who acquired the virus from their mothers, usually die before the age of two,” explained Dr Lucy Matu, from the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation.

How it works

Once blood samples are taken from an infant and arrive at one of the four Kemri centres for disease control and prevention laboratories, they are logged on the system.

Then a short message service (SMS), or text, is automatically sent to the health centre where the sample was taken to confirm that it has been received.

After the diagnosis is complete, another SMS is sent to the health centre to confirm that it is complete; if the results are negative then they are also given. SMS printers are used by the health centres to receive the results and parents are notified by the centre that their children’s results are ready.

Oscar Mulondanome, a lab technologist at one of the Kemri laboratories, said: “On the SMS printers that we have already installed in rural clinics, we only send negative results in real time … This is because as a policy, all positive results on the polymerase chain reaction equipment have to be re-run for confirmation in order to avoid false positives that might be due to contamination.”

Welcome relief

Jesse Mtembe, a nursing officer at the Akithenesit Health Centre in Kenya’s Western Province, is keenly anticipating the rollout of the new software at the health centre where she works. It will be a welcome relief as at the moment, Mtembe’s centre has to ask for lifts from a nearby military camp to send the blood samples to the nearest Kemri centre, which is 200km away and a 10-hour drive across the rough terrain.

After a few months, they have to take the trip again to fetch the results. After the software has been installed at the Akithenesit Health Centre, only one trip will be needed.

In Kitui County in Eastern Province, where the software system has already been installed, residents are singing its praises.

Elizabeth Mwende, a resident of Mutomo village in Kitui, said: “For my first two babies, I received their HIV test results 18 weeks after the blood sample had been collected, and this was given during the routine postnatal clinic visits.

“But for my third-born, I received an SMS on my phone five days after the sample collection, asking me to collect the results.”

This is a 17-week difference.