July 21, 2009
The head of global health for a U.S. medical equipment supplier is touting a plan to convert shipping containers into HIV/AIDS diagnostic labs in resource-limited settings in Africa and elsewhere.
"I think it's a very exciting concept and I think it is one that can be replicated across Africa," Krista Thompson of Becton Dickinson & Co. said during a visit to the Gugulethu township near Cape Town, the site of the first containerized AIDS laboratory from Toga Labs, a South African molecular diagnostics firm.
The Gugulethu lab has been in operation since 2004, providing testing for some 4,500 people on antiretroviral treatment. Run by a medical technologist and an administrator, it processes an estimated 11,000 blood samples annually, said Des Martin, a director at Toga. The lab, which costs around $250,000, is one of 10 now operating in South Africa.
"You can't have antiretroviral programs without laboratory support, it's dangerous," said Martin. "So this provides the means for people who live very far away to have standard of care on their doorstep." "We believe this is a model for the developing world in resource-constrained settings," he added.
"It's very important for the use of drugs to have good diagnostics and laboratory services to go along with that," said Thompson, whose company supplies equipment to Toga. "First we need to know who to treat and then we need to know whether the treatment was working or not."
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is supporting another five planned container labs in South Africa, two in Malawi, two in Zambia, and one in Liberia, said Martin.