World AIDS Day: the rapid HIV test that could change millions of lives

Charlotte Edwards 30 November 2018 (Last Updated November 30th, 2018 15:43)

World AIDS Day occurs each year on 1 December and aims to raise awareness of the disease caused by HIV. This year Abbott released rapid HIV testing technology which could change the lives of millions.

World AIDS Day: the rapid HIV test that could change millions of lives
An estimated 36.7 million people in the world are living with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. Credit: National Aids Trust.

World AIDS Day has taken place on 1 December every year since 1988 and is the international day for raising awareness of AIDs and remembering those who have lost their lives to the disease.

AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, has resulted in the deaths of more than 35 million people despite only being identified in 1984. This makes it one of the most deadly diseases in history.

Today, an estimated 36.7 million people in the world are living with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. World AIDS Day aims to show global solidarity to these people and encourages the wearing of a red HIV awareness ribbon on the day.

Scientific advances have been made since the 1980s so having HIV no longer necessarily equates to having a terminal illness. This is largely due to the development of antiretroviral therapies (ART), which can stop the virus replicating in the body and allow the immune system to heal if they are taken every day for the rest of a patient’s life.

Despite the progress that has been made, HIV/AIDS is still a global pandemic. A lack of education surrounding available treatments for HIV and an ongoing stigma against the illness means that people are often still reluctant to ask for help or get tested, while in the developing world the cost of effective treatments is an ongoing barrier.

Each year in the UK around 5,000 people are diagnosed with HIV but in developing countries, the figures are much higher. UNICEF has announced ahead of World AIDS Day that of the three million children and adolescents in the world living with HIV, nearly nine in ten live in sub-Saharan Africa.

A lack of healthcare workers, medical funding and access to medical supplies in developing countries mean it can be much more difficult to get tested and receive treatment for HIV. To provide the most effective HIV treatment, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that everyone receiving ART should undergo a viral load test at six months and 12 months, and annually thereafter if the patient remains stable on ART.

Unfortunately, very few people in resource-limited settings, such as select countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, receive this necessary level of care due to limited laboratory infrastructure, a shortage of skilled clinical and laboratory staff, weak specimen transport systems, inefficient systems for providing results and patients lost to follow-up.

However, as the field of medical technology powers forward, new HIV testing technology, such as Abbott’s recently released first viral load point-of-care test, are being specifically designed to reduce the number of people still dying from AIDS in remote and underserved communities.

m-PIMA:  breakthrough HIV testing technology

 Credit: Abbott. 

This summer, Abbott launched its new HIV testing technology, the m-PIMA HIV-1/2 VL at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam and it is already making progress in the campaign against the AIDS crisis in developing countries.

The HIV testing technology is the first viral load point-of-care test designed to provide healthcare professionals, particularly in remote and underserved communities, with a fast, accurate and easy-to-use way of detecting and subsequently managing HIV. It can provide viral load test results in less than 70 minutes, allowing patients to get tested and treated in the same visit. This is extremely useful for patients in remote areas who have had to travel far to get to their nearest clinic.

The m-PIMA platform is portable and robust, which Abbott says allows it to provide results in the most challenging of settings. Data Point connectivity also supports decentralised program management so ministries of health are able to monitor and raise standards of care nationwide.

Upon the release of the HIV testing technology, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) director at the Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases Control Research Professor Matilu Mwau said: “The integration of point-of-care viral load solutions in healthcare networks will be instrumental in achieving UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 goals.

“Viral load testing is critical for the monitoring of individual treatment response, the effective use of costly antiretroviral medications, and to track the emergence of resistance in people who are HIV-positive.”

The m-PIMA HIV-1/2 VL joins Abbott’s portfolio of diagnostic solutions, serving more than 120 countries globally and all 55 countries on the African continent. The awareness-raising efforts of global events such as World AIDS Day are incredibly important, but their impact will be blunted without effective therapies and testing technologies to back them up. With rapid diagnostic technologies such as m-PIMA contributing to more efficient and cost-effective HIV treatment and monitoring, the toolbox available to health authorities in developing countries is growing every year.