Nust breaks new ground in HIV treat­ment

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page - Nqo­bile Tshili

THE Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy’s (Nust) Ap­plied Ge­net­ics Test­ing Cen­tre (AGTC) will soon start vi­ral load test­ing, the first of its kind in the coun­try.

Ac­tivists have com­mended the de­vel­op­ment say­ing this will be a turn­ing point in the lives of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and AIDS.

Presently, the coun­try re­lies on CD4 test count­ing which does not de­ter­mine the pa­tients’ re­spon­sive­ness to treat­ment.

Some Zim­bab­weans re­sort to go­ing to for­eign coun­tries such as South Africa for vi­ral load test­ing at a con­sid­er­able cost.

Vi­ral load test­ing at Nust comes at a time when re­cent re­search re­vealed that more than 20 per­cent of peo­ple on ARV treat­ment in Africa are over­dosed caus­ing them to re­act to the drugs.

Nust will start vi­ral load test­ing af­ter re­ceiv­ing $75 000 from the Zim­babwe Man­power De­vel­op­ment Fund (ZIMDEF) yes­ter­day.

AGTC chair­per­son Mr Zepha­nia Dh­lamini told The Chron­i­cle that vi­ral load test­ing is a ma­jor break­through in the coun­try as it will de­ter­mine re­spon­sive­ness of pa­tients to drugs.

“It’s the best prac­tice of eval­u­at­ing the amount of virus cir­cu­lat­ing through one’s body. Vi­ral loads de­ter­mi­na­tion enu­mer­ates the virus par­ti­cles in the blood.

“If an HIV pos­i­tive per­son has six mil­lion copies of the virus and is in­tro­duced to ARV treat­ment through vi­ral test­ing, a doc­tor should be able to de­ter­mine whether the regime is ac­tu­ally re­duc­ing. The test counts the HIV RNA mol­e­cules,” he said.

Mr Dh­lamini said ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, peo­ple liv­ing with HIV should con­duct vi­ral load test­ing thrice a year.

“This is not hap­pen­ing in Zim­babwe as this stan­dard is not there. What is done here is CD4 count­ing which is too in­di­rect,” he said.

Mr Dh­lamini said most peo­ple had to go to South Africa for vi­ral test­ing where they were charged about $100.

“No one does that in the coun­try as far as we’re con­cerned. Most peo­ple who test their vi­ral load do it in South Africa and it costs about $100 but we’re go­ing to be charg­ing about $40,” he said.

An HIV ac­tivist Mr Du­misani Nkomo said the de­vel­op­ment was sweet news to peo­ple liv­ing with HIV be­cause some of them were dy­ing through tak­ing non­re­spon­sive med­i­ca­tion.

Mr Nkomo, how­ever, im­plored the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil (NAC) to cham­pion vi­ral load test­ing in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions for the ben­e­fit of the poor.

He said al­though Nust will be charg­ing about $40, such ser­vices need to be rolled out for free.

“Vi­ral load test­ing is the in­di­ca­tor that de­ter­mines your re­spon­sive­ness to your med­i­ca­tion.

“This has been the big­gest prob­lem be­cause there are no pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions do­ing this. You can imag­ine how many peo­ple are dy­ing be­cause they’re tak­ing un­re­spon­sive med­i­ca­tion.

“I’m a vic­tim of tak­ing wrong med­i­ca­tion and I had to be as­sisted with about $400 to con­duct vi­ral load test­ing at a pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion and this was very ex­pen­sive con­sid­er­ing the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion,” said Mr Nkomo.

Nust’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mar­ket­ing Mr Felix Moyo said the vi­ral load test­ing would see the in­sti­tu­tion claim­ing its po­si­tion as a uni­ver­sity that speaks to com­mu­nity is­sues.

He said the Ap­plied Ge­net­ics Test­ing Cen­tre is al­ready mak­ing pos­i­tive strides in so­ci­ety through its DNA test­ing and pro­fil­ing which have seen the po­lice crack­ing some of the hard­est cases. —@nqot­shili.

Chief Tech­ni­cian Aleck Maun­ganidze tests sam­ples from the clients at the Nust Ap­plied Ge­net­ics Test­ing Cen­tre

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