June 25, 2012
Researchers at Melbourne's Burnet Institute say an inexpensive blood test they developed can be used in developing nations to determine the CD4 levels of people infected with HIV.
The finger-prick blood test gives results in 40 minutes, said Professor Suzanne Crowe, co-director of Burnet's Center for Virology. "It will tell the health worker if the person's immune system has declined to the level where they require treatment for HIV," she said. The test will cost less than $2 (US $2).
A test for CD4 levels already is available in developing countries, but it is more expensive and requires medical equipment and skilled health workers to draw blood from the patient's vein. The new test does not require a laboratory, medical equipment, electricity, batteries or refrigeration.
People living in remote areas of poor countries sometimes have to walk for days to reach a clinic that offers HIV tests, with results often taking weeks. Testers then need to return to the clinic for follow-up testing, including measuring for CD4 levels. "It's a catch-22 at the moment because often the drugs are available but the test to give them access to the treatment is too expensive or not available," said Crowe. Same-day CD4 results could potentially let people start treatment the day they are tested, preventing loss to follow-up.
Crowe and co-developer Associate Professor David Anderson, deputy director at Burnet, hope the test will be available by the end of the year. The test was recently licensed for commercial development by Omega Diagnostics Group. Aid groups in Papua New Guinea, India, and South Africa are likely to be the first to access the test.