A man takes four HIV rapid tests.[Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]
The southwestern province of Yunnan is launching an innovative HIV testing confirmation method to substantially reduce the waiting time for diagnosis and treatment.
The latest approach, comprising four HIV rapid tests using different kits, is far more efficient in terms of time and cost than the current laboratory-based HIV confirmatory testing, according to Lu Lin, deputy director of the Yunnan Health and Family Planning Commission.
In hard-to-reach mountainous areas of Yunnan, patients may wait more than two weeks for a final diagnosis due to the time taken for a sample to reach a designated confirmatory laboratory. Such laboratories are only available in large counties and cities.
“That (the long waiting time) increases the anxiety of those waiting and is more likely to lose track of the sufferer during this period, thus delaying the treatment,” Lu said. “In the long run, that would hamper the fight against the AIDS epidemic.”
With the new method, HIV diagnosis can be obtained in half an hour and with almost the same accuracy as laboratory-dependent confirmatory testing.
Jia Manhong, assistant director of the provincial disease control and prevention center, said, “The new testing approach is expected to become mainstream practice in the future.”
It can even be used in rural grassroots settings and reaches out to as many people as possible for testing, she said. “Only by extending the HIV testing coverage can we detect more sufferers and give them timely treatment.”
This will serve as one of the crucial AIDS intervention tools to better curb the epidemic in general, she added.
Since 2004, the province has reported an average of more than 10,000 HIV/AIDS cases each year, government statistics show. About 15 million HIV tests are carried out annually in the province, which now has the second-largest number of living patients — about 98,000 — of all provinces.
Jia said conventional confirmatory testing that requires sophisticated laboratories and equipment costs about 200 yuan ($30) per patient. The new diagnostic approach involving four rapid tests costs only 50 yuan per patient.
Estimates show that blanket application of the new method in the province would reduce testing costs by 5 million yuan a year, she said.
This is also in line with international best practice, according to Bao Yugang, China director and Asia deputy chief of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a US-headquartered nonprofit organization providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy to more than 910,000 people in 39 countries.
Many countries have implemented the multiple rapid tests for HIV confirmation, which has been easy and cost-effective, he said.
In 2015, the World Health Organization also recommended that member countries should practice the new approach, particularly in regions with relatively higher HIV/AIDS prevalence.
Welcoming Yunnan’s gradual shift to the new approach, Bao urged other areas of China to follow suit and adopt the more efficient method of HIV diagnosis.
Jia agreed, but said the initiative in Yunnan is being implemented cautiously.
Medical institutions and doctors using the new testing method must file an application with the provincial health authority first and receive related training before being given approval, she said, citing an HIV testing guideline issued by the provincial health authority in December.
“After all, accuracy of the tests is the top priority and it also takes time for frontline AIDS medical workers to understand and accept the new method,” she said.
As a key task, there is an implementation target. By the end of the year, half of the province’s HIV diagnoses will be made through the new testing method, she said.