Diagnosing the Problem – HIV in Africa

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that there’s a bit of an HIV problem in Africa. Many of the countries in the southern half of the continent have an infection rate  greater than 15 percent in adults. And of course, that speaks nothing to the rate of infection amongst children, which some would argue is an even more pressing concern.

As AA would say, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In the case of HIV – or any disease for that matter – the first step to recovery is realizing that you’re sick. Therein lies one of the biggest problems for the residents of poor African nations – it’s not very easy to march your children 10 miles to the nearest “hospital,” especially when there is no guarantee that they even have HIV testing kits available. What’s more, once tested the parents must march their children back a month or two later for the results.

Sufficed to say that a lot of them never return for said results.

However, there is hope on the horizon. A team of researchers at Northwestern University have developed an HIV test that yields results within 30 minutes with an accuracy rate of 95 percent. What’s more, they’ve teamed up with the recently established Northwestern Global Health Foundation – a non-profit organization with the mission of developing health solutions for infectious diseases in the developing world.

That partnership is resulting in a new case study to determine whether or not the new HIV tests will work well in the field. With the foundation’s help, the research team will evaluate the test in Mozambique, the first of 10 countries in which the health foundation will conduct trials.

The test itself is a modified version of the p24 test – an antigen test that looks for the capsid protein of the HIV virus. Antibodies specific to p24 are mixed with a person’s blood. If the protein is present, the antibodies latch onto it, causing a change of color. Previously, the test had fallen out of use in the United States due to the presence of more accurate tests that work in the same period of time.

But Africa isn’t the United States, and the tests available here simply aren’t feasible out in the poorest areas of the world.

The new diagnostic first will be independently evaluated in five clinics across the Mozambican capital, testing infants born to HIV-positive mothers. If this first phase in the Maputo clinics goes well, a second evaluation will be conducted in more rural clinics in Mozambique. Once the test has proven effective, the foundation will begin selling the inexpensive test in the marketplace, filling a niche. The current cost is $15 per test but that will reduce by half as volume goes up.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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