ABIDJAN — For infants born with HIV, a rapid introduction to necessary treatment is often the lifeline between whether a child will live or die. The recent introduction of a life-saving, point-of-care diagnostic technology in sub-Saharan Africa could become a global solution to preventing infant deaths from HIV.


According to the World Health Organization, in 2015 more than 1.2 million babies across 21 countries were born to mothers living with HIV. Until recently, less than half of HIV-exposed infants received testing within two months of birth, as recommended by WHO, and only half of those tested received results to know their outcome. Pediatric HIV advocates told Devex that early infant point-of-care diagnostic testing will not only improve health and save lives in resource-limited countries, but also offers same day results for what some call an “incredibly time-bound intervention.”

“Diagnosing HIV in children should be treated as a medical emergency; time is of the essence,” explained Jennifer Cohn, director of innovation at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, or EGPAF. “If we don’t diagnose these kids and put them on treatment early, you see an early spike in mortality for those infants who acquire HIV inter-ureteral and by two years, 50 percent of those kids who are HIV-infected who don’t get those diagnoses in time and don’t start on treatment immediately, will die.”

Q&A: Cutting testing wait times to get more infants on HIV treatment

Fewer than half of the infants who need antiretroviral treatment for HIV are getting it in 21 of the world's highest prevalence countries. A new initiative by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation aims at one of the major obstacles to care: Wait times between testing and results. The foundation's chief executive officer, Chip Lyons, spoke to Devex about promising initial results.

HIV testing facilities in Africa have typically been a centralized facility, where people must travel long distances to major cities to have samples collected, only to have to make a return trip — on average 55 days later — for results. During that time, many patients lost contact, avoided the travel required to get results due to financial or other constraints, and others had died, Cohn told Devex.

For something seen as a medical emergency, this baseline turnaround time had to be addressed, she said. “So with this new point-of-care early infant diagnostic technology came a real opportunity to improve the diagnosis and treatment initiation and really save lives as well as save precious human and financial resources,” Cohn argued.