Early Antiretroviral Therapy initiation: Access and Equity of Viral Load Testing for HIV Treatment Monitoring
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JournalThe Lancet. Infectious Diseases
AbstractScaling up access to HIV viral load testing for individuals undergoing antiretroviral therapy in low-resource settings is a global health priority, as emphasised by research showing the benefits of suppressed viral load for the individual and the whole population. Historically, large-scale diagnostic test implementation has been slow and incomplete because of service delivery and other challenges. Building on lessons from the past, in this Personal View we propose a new framework to accelerate viral load scale-up and ensure equitable access to this essential test. The framework includes the following steps: (1) ensuring adequate financial investment in scaling up this test; (2) achieving pricing agreements and consolidating procurement to lower prices of the test; (3) strengthening functional tiered laboratory networks and systems to expand access to reliable, high-quality testing across countries; (4) strengthening national leadership, with prioritisation of laboratory services; and (5) demand creation and uptake of test results by clinicians, nurses, and patients, which will be vital in ensuring viral load tests are appropriately used to improve the quality of care. The use of dried blood spots to stabilise and ship samples from clinics to laboratories, and the use of point-of-care diagnostic tests, will also be important for ensuring access, especially in settings with reduced laboratory capacity. For countries that have just started to scale up viral load testing, lessons can be learnt from countries such as Botswana, Brazil, South Africa, and Thailand, which have already established viral load programmes. This framework might be useful for guiding the implementation of viral load with the aim of achieving the new global HIV 90-90-90 goals by 2020.