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HIV lab launched in Mafeteng

by Sunday Express
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labLimpho Sello

MAFETENG Hospital on Thursday officially opened its Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory for HIV Viral Load and Early Infant Diagnosis to the public.

The laboratory was constructed through a partnership between the Ministry of Health, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other implementing partners.

Addressing the gathering during the handover ceremony, US Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington, said the laboratory would help curb the HIV/AIDS pandemic by enabling clinicians to provide timely diagnosis and monitoring of the condition.

“We all know treatment is essential to controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but treatment requires timely diagnosis and monitoring,” Ambassador Harrington said.

“A quality-assured laboratory such as this one can make a big difference in reducing the burden of HIV on patients and enable clinicians to provide better management of HIV.

“A top-notch laboratory also helps stem the spread of the virus by monitoring the viral load of people living with HIV (PLHIV) who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART).  Measurements of a person’s viral load tell us whether ART is working or not.”

He also indicated that when a patient has an undetectable viral load, it means their treatment is working and they were unlikely to transmit HIV to their sexual partner.

“The establishment of this Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory means Basotho in Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing Districts now have access to timely viral load services.  With 26 percent of people living with HIV in these three districts, the additional laboratory capacity is an important addition to the national response against the epidemic.”

He said Lesotho, with the support of PEPFAR and other partners, was the first African country to implement the Test and Treat approach for all HIV positive people.

“The policy also includes routine viral load testing for all people on ART,” he said.

Ambassador Harrington revealed the laboratory started functioning in July and had played a vital role in increasing adherence to ART and guiding adjustments of treatment regimens when needed.

“The laboratory has provided viral load monitoring for more than 1 000 people on ART. I was pleased to learn this laboratory will soon begin screening infants for HIV, which will double the national capacity for such screening,” he said.

“Currently, mothers are waiting too long for their children’s results, when they should be focusing on their futures in the rare case of an HIV positive diagnosis, taking control and ensuring their child has the life-saving treatment he or she requires.  Given the critical role this laboratory is playing and will continue to play, we are delighted to have invested more than $100 000 (about M1 425 750) to support it, through our implementing partner – University Research Council.”

He commended the government for the positive impact the Test and Treat policy has had so far, adding that from May to June, the number of HIV positive Basotho beginning treatment for the first time doubled.

“Basotho came forward to be tested for HIV knowing that, if they were positive, they would be enrolled on life-saving treatment right away, instead of having to wait until they are sick,” Ambassador Harrington added.

For her part, Mafeteng Laboratory Head Mamolefi Lenka said the laboratory was a great asset to the three districts as it reduced the time spent waiting for results which previously came from the Maseru Laboratory.

“Before we had this laboratory we sent tests to Maseru and got results after one month, but we now take a week to release the results,” she said.

Ms Lenka said the laboratory was very crucial especially during this time when government was moving from CD4Count to detecting the viral load. The CD4COUNT was only detecting the number of antibodies in the body while the viral load machine detects the load of the virus in the body.

“Now that government launched the test and treat it is clear that there will be a base line where there is viral load detection in it. “When a person tests HIV positive for the first time, this means six months down the line their viral load will be checked to determine whether the ART is working or not,” Ms Lenka said.

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