Challenges and opportunities for the implementation of virological testing in resource-limited settings
Authors: Teri Roberts, Helen Bygrave, Emmanuel Fajardo and Nathan Ford
Though the advantages of routine virological monitoring for patients on anti-retroviral therapy have been established, cost and complexity limit its full implementation. Monitoring is important for diagnosing virological failure early on, before the development of drug resistance mutations, and to trigger early adherence interventions. Simple and cost-effective viral load tests that facilitate simplification and decentralization of testing and strategies, such as the use of dried blood spots and pooled sample testing, which further aid simplification, are becoming available. In addition, replacing immunological monitoring with virological monitoring in non-viremic patients in a phased manner will reduce the costs associated with dual immuno-virological monitoring. Going forward, the simplification of testing paired with price reducing strategies that will allow for healthy competition between multiple manufacturers will enable the implementation of viral load testing in resource-poor settings. It is important that future HIV and AIDS treatment guidelines provide clear recommendations for routine virological monitoring and that governments and donors fund the implementation of accurate and operationally proven testing platforms in a comprehensive manner.