How having best laboratory brings success in HIV fight

FIGHT against HIV/AIDS has got a greater impetus, with advancement of science and technology enabling Mbeya Region to have the best laboratory in the country with accurate results, thanks to the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The state-of-the-art laboratory placed at Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital, has machines with capacity to magnify the virus for better and quality examination as well as measure viral load of a client and ultimately experts advise mode of treatment to respective client.

The laboratory has several sections, including those with machine to test matters relating to HIV and others on Tuberculosis, as the country mounts the fight to see that 2030 be the end of HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.

HIV programmes are funded by PEPFAR through Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) – Department of Defense and implemented by the Henry Jackson Foundation Military Research International (HJFMRI) in collaboration with National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Serve Tanzania (SETA), Tumaini Community Services Organisation in the Southern Highlands regions.

HJFMRI Director of Laboratory Services, Dr Imani Mwakabande said in Mbeya recently that fight against HIV/AIDS had been a hard nut to crack, with less effective machines that in the past used to process only 10 samples a day, at the time when experts focused on CD4 count to establish how many CD4 cells one has in the blood.

“We are grateful that we get great support from PEPFAR since it started funding the HIV programmes in the country 20 years ago. We could then process merely 10 samples a day two decades ago, but now the number has gone to up to 5,000 samples. This is number one laboratory in the country,” he said.

The expert said the machines can also detect why certain virus at a certain stage is resistant to a certain drug in line two of drugs, so that doctors can decide what line of drug to prescribe, as the nation needs stable clients with less viral loads, it is a decision that should be taken with great care.

Dr Mwakabande noted that given the quality of work they do in the laboratory, many people have built trust in experts and service providers, as a result they show up to get tested, with samples being collected at different centres of the Southern Highland regions.

With costs being shouldered by PEPFAR since initiation of its activities in the country, Dr Mwakabande said they maintain highest state of safety during taking the samples, transporting them and in processing the same. He said the lab is also the first for containment, being referred to as third level lab.

He said benefit of the service they offer is that women who are HIV+ have regained faith that they can bear babies who are not infected and lead normal lives. He noted that they are able to establish the kind of viruses as each virus carries with it its history.

NIMR Mbeya Regional Manager, Dr Elias Nyanda, said they collaborate and get huge support from PEPFAR, saying it is pertinent to cooperate. Speaking of HIV vaccine, he said efforts are ongoing in different countries and researches take long time. He said they research, write and coordinate with outer world and that the fight should be on all fronts.

A Senior Researcher with NIMR, Dr Lucas Maganga said that since 2013 they have been cooperating with the African Cohort Study (AFRICOS) in a long term prospective observational HIV focused cohort enrolling 3,000 HIV infected and 600 HIV uninfected volunteers in MHRP PEPFAR-supported HIV care and treatment facilities in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

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