Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Correspondent
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 non-responsive 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.