Monday, December 27, 2010

Advancements in Technology Lead to Early HIV Detection in Kenya’s Infants

By guest blogger, Jack Lundee -

With over five million people infected with HIV in South Africa, it’s close to a fourth of the total number of Africans living with the virus today. Worldwide, there are approximately forty million individuals infected with HIV, half of which can be located in sub-Saharan Africa. And in 2009, nearly one point three million Africans died from the virus known as AIDS. With the passing of World Aids Day (Dec 01), it’s important that we remember the severity of the virus and some of the great advancements we’ve made in medical treatment and technologies.

Advanced, yet inexpensive vaccines and micro-bicides are amongst the top developments in medicine as preventative measures. Similarly, low costing, antiretroviral drugs have given infected populations the ability to live longer, healthier and happier lives. As important as these medicines, technologies and treatments are however, it’s even more important that we understand who’s doing what. The AFCA (American Foundation for Children with Aids) is a non-profit group that lends a hand to infected children in sub-Saharan Africa who ultimately have no other means of medical treatment. They are amongst a handful of organizations that provides critical AIDS and HIV related medications, nutritional supplements, medical equipment, and emergency supplies that are at high demand in their areas of focus. Globally, 9 out of every ten children affected with the HIV virus live in sub Saharan Africa – 90 percent of these children have contracted the virus directly through pregnancy.

Early detection is very crucial to the survival of this 90 percent. Behind such early detection technologies are the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI 2005) and The Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI 2002). As the brainchild of close personal aid Doug Band, the CGI has done exceptional work in the areas of global health, technology, education and more. Similarly, Clinton’s Health Access Initiative is committed to strengthening health systems in developing nations like Africa. In fact, part of their mission is to “…expand access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.” This includes investing monies into technological studies surrounding medicine and treatment programs.

In the technology sector, Doug Band, former President Clinton and The CGI, alongside CHAI, continues to receive funding for HIV related projects in third world countries like South Africa. Lately, they’ve joined up with Hewlett Packard (HP) to deliver technologies that will take, manage and return early diagnosis for infants in Kenya. In other words, this new technology will identify the virus in an infant within one to two days, which is a significant upgrade from traditional detection, derived from paper based systems.

However, the AFCA is amongst a very miniscule handful of organizations that actually provides anti-retroviral medicines to children ages pre-birth to 19 years old, as some organizations consider childhood to be over at 15, but adult providers of anti-retroviral medicine don’t give to children under 19 years old. At present, AFCA provides aid to this particular group and their HIV+ guardians in the following areas:
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Kenya
  • Uganda
  • Zimbabwe
The AFCA does not forget that although a majority of the people in South Africa affected by HIV/AIDS is of reproductive age, children and seniors are amongst the most vulnerable to death. Equally understood are the statistics; “…at least 14 million children under the age of 15 have experienced the death of one or both parents due to AIDS.” The only practical solution to keep elders alive is through anti-retroviral therapy, thereby giving living parents to the children affected by this horrible virus.

Without immediate care, infants infected typically don’t make it past age two. In their first year, HP will be able to help over 70,000 infants in Kenya. These technologies will also permit real-time medical data, which will be viewable to health professionals across Kenya.

Still, Africa remains one of the biggest challenges for associations and non-profits like the AFCA, CHAI and the CGI. Recent improvements in technology, along with improve anti-retroviral medications have helped lessen casualty rates and lengthened lives. And although a cure remains missing, the AFCA, HP, CHAI and the CGI have provided a great technological progress towards abolishing the virus for good.