A finger prick for HIV test

NEW DELHI: A single finger prick may soon help test Indians for HIV. With plans to test 22 million Indians every year from 2012 for HIV, the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) has just started trials of a new rapid testing technology that will not only tell you your HIV status within 20 minutes but will also do away with the present requirement of having to separate serum and red blood cells to test for HIV.

The Whole Blood Fingerprick Testing Technology (WBFTT), which has done wonders in Africa in increasing the number of people being tested for HIV, is being tried out at Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) in 10 districts of four states – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu – to gauge its effectiveness in generating correct results.

Following the three-month trial of the technology, Naco will take a final call on whether to introduce WBFTT in its National AIDS Control Programme along with present day Serum HIV antibody rapid test.

Koutenya Sinha, for Times News Network

Naco’s ICTC expert Dr Suresh K Mohammed told TOI: "The kits at present accept only serum to test for HIV antibody. The presence of HIV antibody in your blood itself says you are infected. This requires a centrifuge which separates the serum from the blood. The new technology being tried now accepts whole blood and can tell your HIV status by a simple finger prick."

Naco director-general K Sujatha Rao said the pilot project to check for WBFTT’s efficacy and sensitivity was sanctioned by the National AIDS Control Board in its recent meeting on June 11.

"If WBFTT proves successful for use in the national programme, carrying out HIV testing will become simpler. Even Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANMs) visiting families in the country’s most backward villages will be able to conduct HIV tests on consent, helping bring ICTC services to the doorstep of people," Rao said.

ICTC was started in India in 1997 and today the country has 4,500 such centres – the largest network in the world. Each ICTC is manned by a trained counsellor and laboratory technician. HIV counselling and testing services are free of cost and the results are kept confidential. Since 2001, more than 18 million people have been counselled and tested.

According to Dr Mohammed, out of the 2.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India, only about 25-30% are aware of their HIV status. "There is therefore an urgent need to increase access of ICT services which can be achieved through simpler HIV testing technologies like WBFTT. If the pilot project proves successful, WBFTT will be used for HIV testing in ICTCs in all round-the-clock public health centres," he added.

Dr Dennis Broun, UNAIDS country head, said that rapid HIV tests makes it possible for the patient to get pre-test and post-test counselling, their test results, and any medical referrals they may need, all in one visit.

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