Relief for HIV+ people with $100M viral load machine in Guyana this week
Since 2018, thousands of persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Guyana have not been able to access routine CD4 and viral load tests but long-promised relief for these persons by the government is on the horizon.
With some $105 million approved for this purpose in the 2023 budget, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony told the News Room on Tuesday that the machine will arrive in Guyana within the next few days.
“It’s an updated viral load machine. We are buying that directly from the manufacturer, which is Roche, it should be in the country this week,” Dr. Anthony said.
Once here, the manufacturer will send to Guyana technical experts to install the machine at the National Public Health Reference Lab.
“It shouldn’t take long. They will have to bring in a specialist technician to do it and then get the appropriate reagents to run the test.
“It’s a very expensive piece of equipment, however, if you think about HIV+ patients alone we have about 8, 000 people and once you put them on treatment the only way to know if the treatment is effective you will have to do their viral loads,” he added.
As recently as January 2023, the National Public Health Reference Lab was reportedly only offering these tests on an emergency basis. The viral load test is important because it gives persons living with HIV an idea of how much of the virus is in their body – an important mechanism to gauge viral suppression – while CD4 test measures the number of T cells in the blood.
Guyana has agreed too, with the UNAIDS, to achieve viral suppression for 95 per cent of its population currently being treated for HIV by 2030.
In 2020, Guyana was pretty close to achieving that target at 87 per cent but in 2021 those high figures dropped to just over 20 per cent.
Why? The absence of testing to track the attainment of the goals has significantly contributed to the decline.
Dr. Anthony reminded of the importance of the test.
“Viral loads have been very expensive for these patients, so by having this machine now we will be able to do the viral loads quite routinely and I’m sure within the year we will be able to meet those targets,” the health minister said.
Guyana also committed to ensuring that 95 per cent of those living with HIV would know their status and 95 per cent of those who know their status to be on treatment by 2030. On these two fronts, Guyana is doing well.
Routine viral load tests will recommence once the machine is installed in the laboratory.