The pivotal role of point-of-care tests
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease spread through contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids, or by sharing needles and syringes. An early HIV detection test not only helps to prevent transmission of the virus, but also allows a person to seek treatment options and live a longer and healthier life. Regular, early testing is a crucial component in arresting the spread of HIV. Point-of-care testing, which is rapid HIV screening performed in clinical settings by professionals, is enabling people living with HIV (PLHIV) to lead a healthy life. The 4th Gen Rapid test for HIV accurately identifies both HIV antibodies and the antigen within 20 minutes. It is capable of detecting 28% of infections missed by current 3rd generation rapid tests.
Early diagnosis makes it possible for treatment to begin early on, which in turn, has a positive impact on the person’s long term health. With the high sensitivity and specificity 4th gen rapid tests for HIV, identification of HIV antibodies and antigen have accelerated the HIV detection in blood bank screenings, which otherwise would appear even 15-25 days after infection. Use of early HIV detection tests in antenatal care makes timely and appropriate treatment possible, to prevent mother-to-child transmission. These advanced diagnostic tools used for screening offer valuable data that help to further research and empower us stay ahead of the virus.
Why mixed-method technologies are the way forward
Scientific innovations allow healthcare providers to build a robust testing strategy that can help PLHIV optimally and more inclusively. Mixed-method technologies that combine lab-based centralized testing and point-of-care testing can help guide the way forward. They are especially critical in areas where voluntary testing is low and access to diagnostics is limited.
Through this approach, more people can access viral load testing (VLT)— a process that guides care and monitoring, to assess PLHIV’s response to treatment. PLHIV need to visit their antiretroviral therapy (ART) centre every 3 months as per the latest protocol, with VLT sample collection typically aligning with this visit. New innovations like Dried Blood Spot (DBS) testing can be used in areas where logistics and sample transportation are a challenge. India has made significant progress on the Triple elimination initiative that aims to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B. To achieve the UN’s complete elimination goal, it is critical to focus on counseling and testing, and make the most of each visit of the expectant mother. Currently in India, DBS is restricted to children for mother-to-child transmission cases. However, it can be further utilized across different age groups to ensure routine testing. Vulnerable groups, including the antenatal population and prison inmates can benefit from this mixed-method.
No matter what the health condition, the first step in the journey of care is always a timely and accurate diagnosis. In the case of an infection like HIV, early detection and routine testing is not just important, but absolutely crucial in curbing the impact of the disease, on individuals, as well as on communities at large.