Bringing HIV Labs by Backpack to Rural Africa
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
When John Barber, a project manager at Daktari Diagnostics, sought to test his company’s instrument, he went to the type of place where the technology might have the most impact: a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. He awoke at dawn on a November morning in 2013, tossed a few Daktari devices into a backpack, and, together with a team of HIV-treatment specialists, drove 2 hours to the village of Kasensero, where the first Ugandan case of HIV was reported more than 30 years ago. Driving a Jeep along dirt roads with more cows than traffic, “we were off the grid,” Barber recalls.
Barber and his team showed up at 8 a.m. and found about 20 people already waiting for them. Dozens more arrived within the hour. An estimated 43 percent of people in Kasensero are HIV-positive, and these patients wanted to know whether the virus had started to damage their immune systems. The medical team was there to check the patients’ CD4 counts, a measure of immune cells that indicates how well the body can stave off opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. Based on test results, some people would need to start antiretroviral therapy. Others might need their medications adjusted.