ZIMBABWE lags behind in having 95 percent of the HIV population with viral load suppression (VLS) owing to low viral load testing services uptake, a research has found.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Among the key challenges is the demotivating turnaround time taken to receive viral load testing (results VLTR). The study done to expose the ‘Barriers to Accessing HIV Related Services for Women Living with HIV’ by Pan African Positive Women Coalition (PAPWC) Zimbabwe through a consultant Mr Amos Milanzi found four critical challenges.
The first one was the results take long to come back. So you have the women who know they have to have their viral load (VL) taken and indeed they comply. But unfortunately, the results are not coming back on time.
“For example, some of them they have to be taken VL every six months but the results are taking more than six months to come back. So it means you go to your other six months for the next viral loads without knowing your previous viral load results which is not good.
“And this is very critical and unfortunate for those with very high viral loads requiring urgent decisions to be taken. It means someone would have complied to have their viral load taken but the results are taking long due to many reasons I will discuss later on,” he said.
The study was conducted in seven provinces namely Bulawayo, Mashonaland West, Matebeleland South, Midlands, Harare, Mashonaland Central and Masvingo. He added that the turnaround time is too long from the time their samples are taken and the time WLHIV receive the results.
“It demoralises the people who might say they might not come next time. It demoralise people in terms of uptake of viral load testing because of the long turnaround. The other issue is about samples turning bad or going bad. Most of the time its fresh blood and transport system is not reliable.
“You can’t store the samples properly because of the power challenges. The blood will get bad. It means if you take my sample today, it goes bad, and you ask me to come back again and you know how expensive transport is. Most of the people do not stay around health facilities. They are very far in rural and even in urban areas.
“So they may not come back again because of the challenges. At times they don’t even know that the sample went bad and probably they get to know when they come for the next refill asking for their results.
“Also transport being a big issue in urban and rural areas, for women to come specifically come for VLT, when they don’t seem to be sick, they cannot come for a redo for a sample. Key informants cited challenges with the sample transportation system which results in delays in sample transportation. So from health facility staff including National Level staff, this was mentioned,it came out more often,” Milanzi said.
PAPWC Zim country coordinator Tendai Westerhof said now that they have the evidence from the findings they hope CCM Zimbabwe will use it for the concept note to the Global fund and that they will be implemented in the forthcoming Zimbabwe National Aids Strategic Plan 4.
The study sought to assess why it was concluded that viral load testing coverage stood at 45 percent in the HIV population.
“We should explore possibilities of strengthening WLHIV as a constituency to facilitate systematic documentation of their challenges and utilisation of evidence for advocacy;
“Prioritise revitalising/strengthening the sample transportation as part of reducing the turnaround time for VLT result,” said Milanzi.
In the long term it he expressed the need to explore possibilities of decentralising laboratory services as part of reducing turnaround time.
Viral Load Tests are important to monitor the amount of HIV in an infected person’s blood. They are used to diagnose acute HIV infection, guide treatment choices, and monitor response to antiretroviral therapy (ART).