• Dried blood spots are a useful tool for quality assurance of rapid HIV testing in Kigali, Rwanda.

      Chaillet, P; Zachariah, R; Harries, K; Rusanganwa, E; Harries, A D; Médecins sans Frontières, Medical Department, Brussels Operational Center, Belgium. (Published by Elsevier, 2009-06)
      A study was conducted in two primary health facilities in Kigali, Rwanda, to determine whether dried blood spots (DBS) used for quality control of HIV testing would give comparable results with serum after being stored for a period of 14 days and 30 days at ambient temperature. DBS and serum specimens were collected from patients undergoing HIV testing. ELISA performed on serum at baseline (gold standard) was compared with DBS results. The study included a total of 491 patients, comprising 92 (19%) males and 399 (81%) females with a median age of 27 years. A total of 148 individuals (30%) were HIV-positive. The average ambient temperature under which DBS specimens were stored at the health facilities was 23 degrees C (range 18-25 degrees C). The kappa statistic at 14 days and 30 days was 0.99 (99.4% agreement) and 0.98 (99.2% agreement), respectively, signifying almost 'perfect agreement (P<0.001)' with the gold standard. In a resource-limited sub-Saharan African country embarking on scaling-up of HIV testing, DBS stored at ambient conditions for up to 1 month were found to be a useful and robust tool to perform quality control of rapid HIV testing at the health centre level.
    • Patient retention and attrition on antiretroviral treatment at district level in rural Malawi.

      Massaquoi, M; Zachariah, R; Manzi, M; Pasulani, O; Misindi, D; Mwagomba, B; Bauernfeind, A; Harries, A D; Médecins Sans Frontières, Thyolo District, Thyolo, Malawi. (Published by Elsevier, 2009-06)
      We report on rates of patient retention and attrition in the context of scaling-up antiretroviral treatment (ART) within a district hospital and its primary health centres in rural Malawi. 'Retention' was defined as being alive and on ART or transferred out, whereas 'attrition' was defined as died, lost to follow-up or stopped treatment. A total of 4074 patients were followed-up for 1803 person-years: 2904 were at the hospital and 1170 at health centres. Approximately 85% of patients were retained in care, both at hospital and health centres, with a retention rate per 100 person-years of 185 and 211, respectively [adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 1.18, 95% CI 1.10-1.28, P=0.001). Attrition rates per 100 person-years were similar: 33 and 36, respectively (adjusted HR 1.17, 95% CI 0.97-1.4, P=0.1). At health centres the incidence of loss to follow-up was significantly lower than at the hospital (adjusted HR 0.24, P<0.001, risk reduction 77%), but the rate of reported deaths was higher at health centres (adjusted HR 2.2, 95% CI 1.76-2.72, P<0.001). As Malawi continues to extend the coverage (and equity) of ART, including in rural areas, attention is needed to reduce losses to follow-up at hospital level and reduce mortality at primary care level.
    • Task shifting in HIV/AIDS: opportunities, challenges and proposed actions for sub-Saharan Africa.

      Zachariah, R; Ford, N; Philips, M; Lynch, S; Massaquoi, M; Janssens, V; Harries, A D; Médecins Sans Frontières, Medical Department, Brussels Operational Center, Rue de Gasperich, Luxembourg. zachariah@internet.lu (Published by Elsevier, 2009-06)
      Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a crisis in human health resources due to a critical shortage of health workers. The shortage is compounded by a high burden of infectious diseases; emigration of trained professionals; difficult working conditions and low motivation. In particular, the burden of HIV/AIDS has led to the concept of task shifting being increasingly promoted as a way of rapidly expanding human resource capacity. This refers to the delegation of medical and health service responsibilities from higher to lower cadres of health staff, in some cases non-professionals. This paper, drawing on Médecins Sans Frontières' experience of scaling-up antiretroviral treatment in three sub-Saharan African countries (Malawi, South Africa and Lesotho) and supplemented by a review of the literature, highlights the main opportunities and challenges posed by task shifting and proposes specific actions to tackle the challenges. The opportunities include: increasing access to life-saving treatment; improving the workforce skills mix and health-system efficiency; enhancing the role of the community; cost advantages and reducing attrition and international 'brain drain'. The challenges include: maintaining quality and safety; addressing professional and institutional resistance; sustaining motivation and performance and preventing deaths of health workers from HIV/AIDS. Task shifting should not undermine the primary objective of improving patient benefits and public health outcomes.