Developing new strategies to fight HIV/Aids

South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world.

Estimates indicate that 5.6-million people in our country are living with HIV. It has also been shown that Aids is the biggest killer in South Africa, causing 30% of deaths. As South Africa’s largest pathology group, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has as its top priority the national department of health’s need to provide increased access to patient testing and treatment.

The NHLS’s national priorities programme (NPP) was established earlier this year for this purpose. With its 268 laboratories countrywide, serving about 85% of the population and employing world- renowned pathology researchers, the NHLS is in a position to develop strategies to support our country’s global aim of zero new HIV infections.

There has been a vast improvement of diagnostic services by the NHLS to support the efforts of better access to care of HIV-infected individuals, with 65 laboratories testing CD4 counts and 11 specialising in early infant diagnosis of HIV. Medical professionals refer to the CD4 count to decide when to begin treatment during HIV infection.

Viral load tests provide important information that is used in con- junction with the CD4 cell count to monitor the status of HIV disease, guide recommendations for therapy, and to predict the future course of HIV. Evidence shows that keeping the viral load levels as low as possible for as long as possible decreases the complications of HIV disease, slows the progression from HIV infection to AIDS, and prolongs life.


Approximately 1.3 million viral load tests were performed last year in 16 HIV molecular laboratories. The NHLS this year launched a study to investigate point-of-care (POC) testing. The study will determine the feasibility of POC testing for HIV/TB diagnosis, treatment initiation and monitoring.

POC testing is performed outside the laboratory, near the patient or at the patient’s bedside and results are immediately available to the doctor. The cost-saving benefits of POC testing include shorter hospitals stays and reduced transport costs for out-patients travelling back to get results.

The NPP will also develop training programmes for nurses to operate POC tests. This type of testing will be particularly useful in rural areas hampered by lack of laboratories, technical skills and poor integration of HIV and TB services.

Research
The centre for HIV/STIs (sexually transmitted infections) within the NHLS conducts research primarily on the virology and immunology of HIV and also provides a key role in HIV drug-resistance surveillance for the national department of health. NHLS researchers are constantly conducting studies to identify gene or antibody candidates for vaccine development or other compounds to prevent HIV infection.

Research into how broadly neutralising antibodies develop in HIV-1-infected individuals is being conducted. This research will assist with guiding vaccine design and immunisation strategies. In addition, the role of other host immunological responses towards HIV is being investigated to assess how these control HIV infection.

The NHLS is currently spearheading various HIV surveillance programmes on behalf of the national department of health. These include programmes to evaluate the effectiveness of the national prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme and the annual antenatal HIV-1 prevalence survey.

These surveys provide relevant information about the HIV epidemic in South Africa, including the national prevalence of HIV in pregnant women, as well as the number of new HIV infections in South Africa over a given period.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial

In commemoration of World Aids Day, we look at the latest news, features and multimedia on some of Africa’s deadliest diseases. View our special report.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Advertorial
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How smuggled gold destined for Dubai or Singapore has links...

Three Malagasy citizens were apprehended at OR Tambo International airport, but now the trail is found to connect to France and Mali

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

More top stories

R2.3bn VBS trial expected to only begin in 2022

The state is expected to request a 16 week-long trial, as delays stymie progress in the saga.

Spy boss tells how agency was used to detain Zuma’s...

Day two of State Security Agency testimony at the Zondo commission birthed more revelations that point to the former head of state and agents breaking the law

Covax will take excess doses of Covid vaccines off the...

The global initiative plans to deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations

Eastern Cape citizens don’t have to visit the labour department...

This measure, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, may shortly be introduced in other regions.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…