The cost of anti-retroviral drugs has caused a great debate in South Africa, but the public is not always aware of the hidden costs that pile on top of treatment prices. Among these are laboratory expenses, including the cost of running tests to determine when anti-retrovirals are needed.
This Science in Africa article describes how Debbie Glencross, of the Johannesburg general hospital, developed a method for counting human blood cells targeted by HIV. The test cuts costs by 76 per cent and its simplicity makes it possible for all 18 government anti-retroviral drug roll-out centres in South Africa to run tests. Moreover, the new method allows blood samples to be analysed up to five days after collection. This means clinics in remote areas, which previously had no access to testing facilities, can send samples in for assessment.
Glencross is running a quality control study of her method for the World Health Organisation, assessing labs across South Africa and in other African nations as well, from neighbouring Lesotho and Botswana to Burundi and Ethiopia. Even distant Caribbean countries have adopted the new protocol.