Tracking the progress of HIV: the impact of point-of-care tests on antiretroviral therapy
Steven D Reid, Sarah J Fidler, Graham S Cooke
Department of Infectious Diseases, St Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London, London, UK
Abstract: It is now around 30 years since the discovery of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than 70 million people have been infected in that time and around 35 million have died. The majority of those currently living with HIV/AIDS are in low- and middle-income countries, with sub-Saharan Africa bearing a disproportionate burden of the global disease. In high-income countries, the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has drastically reduced the morbidity and mortality associated with HIV. Patients on ART are now predicted to have near-normal life expectancy and the role of treatment is increasingly recognized in preventing new infections. In low- and middle-income countries, treatment is now more widely available and around half of those who need ART are currently receiving it. Early diagnosis of HIV is essential if ART is to be optimally implemented. Lab-based diagnostics for screening, diagnosis, treatment initiation, and the monitoring of treatment efficacy are critical in managing the disease and reducing the number of new infections each year. The introduction of point-of-care HIV rapid tests has transformed the epidemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. For the first time, these point-of-care tests allow for the rapid identification of infected individuals outside the laboratory who can undergo counseling and treatment and, in the case of pregnant women, allow the timely initiation of ART to reduce the risk of vertical transmission. Although survival is markedly improved with ART even in the absence of laboratory monitoring, long-term management of people living with HIV on ART, and their partners, is essential to ensure successful viral suppression. The burden of disease in many resource-poor settings with high HIV prevalence has challenged the ability of local laboratories to effectively monitor those on ART. Diagnostics used to initiate and monitor treatment are now moving out of the laboratory and into the field. These new point-of-care tests for viral load and CD4 are poised to further transform the disease and shift the treatment paradigm in low- and middle-income countries.
Keywords: point-of-care, diagnostics, HIV, CD4, viral load, resource-poor countries
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