Medical workers in Kabarole district are concerned about the low viral load suppression in HIV/Aids positive patients. Viral load testing measures the amount of HIV in a person’s blood.
According to medics, when there are less than 50 copies of HIV’s genetic material per millilitre of blood, a person’s viral load is said to be ‘undetectable.’
This means the virus has been suppressed to a level where a person can live a healthy life and is much less likely to transmit the virus. Last month, Kabarole district health department conducted viral load tests on 800 HIV positive patients. According to the results, 55 per cent of the patients had low viral load suppression.
Dr Gerald Magezi, a doctor at the HIV/Aids clinic at Fort Portal regional referral hospital who conducted the viral load test attributes low viral load suppression to non-adherence to anti-retro-viral therapy (ART).
Magezi explains that despite the availability of drugs at health facilities, patients are not adhering to treatment due to memory lapses, long distances to health facilities and stigma.
According to Magezi, if the viral load is not suppressed, it makes the virus active and infection can progress.
“Before our clients start on ARVs, they are told all the implications of ARVs that when you start on ARVs; you’re going to take them for life and they have some side effects so that they make an informed decision. So that means, roughly nine per cent have been non-adherent. Of the five per cent, one of the reasons that is cited are those few cases that come and say they have been prayed for and have healed.
Dr Patrick Ajuna, the programme manager of Baylor-Uganda, one of the organizations that carried out the research, says that Baylor in partnership with the health department is intensifying counselling of patients and their caregivers aimed at encouraging the patients to adhere to treatment.
Ajuna wants the district to take ARVs closer to the community to avoid patients to spending huge costs on transport to health facilities that are far away from their homes.
He adds that viral load testing will also be offered routinely in health facilities accredited to offer ART services.
“Adherence is low, majorly for key reasons are that adolescents and young children actually depend on the caregivers to receive their treatment daily. And so where the caregiver doesn’t do the job properly, we see adherence to ART dropping. So our efforts should be geared towards at addressing those barriers that are affecting adherence”, said Ajuna.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), viral load testing and monitoring can improve HIV treatment in developing countries and is critical because it identifies people who are having problems regularly taking their medicines, and can be used to trigger additional adherence and second, it identifies people who have developed drug resistance and need to be switched to another treatment regimen.