By Tesfaye Simerta
CHANCHO TOWN, OROMIA REGION, ETHIOPIA, 23 October 2014 – The Chancho Health Centre, 45kms north of Addis Ababa, is where Rediet* goes for her follow-ups, having discovered she was HIV positive back in 2013. Today, there are lots of people waiting alongside Rediet to utilise the laboratory services. Chancho is one of the health centres that the Ethiopian Government – supported by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), UNITAID and UNICEF – is using to advance access to Point of Care Technologies (POCT). These provide results on the same day, in order to make HIV testing and treatment more effective, efficient and easier for both health care workers and patients.
Now, Rediet is a mother of a one-year-old baby girl and is still following up on her status regularly.
“Now I have stopped having to wait to hear my CD4 count status at the Fiche Hospital, far from here,” said Rediet, who used to have to travel to Fiche Town to get the test done. “When I went to Fiche, I was paying transport expenses for a round trip, but here it is accessible – about an hour and half walking distance from my home. Previously, when my blood sample was sent to Fiche Hospital, I was not able to know my CD4 count status for a month or more and could not receive treatment. Now that the machine has arrived in the Health Centre, I get my results just after 20 minutes of testing, receive my treatment here and then go home.”
According to Mr Asfaw Referra, Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) Focal Person at the Chancho Health Centre, there are now around 500 clients using the CD4 count of POCT, of which one in ten are children. “Clients are very happy about this machine, since they can discover their CD4 count status just after 20 minutes,” he told us. “There were clients whose CD4 counts had dropped as low as 93. As they start their ART treatment immediately after we know their CD4 count, however, we are very excited when these people show signs of improvement.”
In addition, before the POCT machine was introduced to the Chancho Health Centre, the number of clients allowed to give blood samples was restricted.
“The sample we used to take to Fiche hospital was restricted to between 10 and 15,” Abebe Gelme, Chancho Health Centre Laboratory Technician, informs us. As a result, Chancho Health Centre was forced to transport the samples every week. “Despite the large demand, we appointed only 10 to 15 clients to give their blood sample to our Health Centre up until 9 am every Friday morning, since the collected blood samples had to be taken to Fiche right away.”
Some clients coming from far away could not reach to the Health Centre before 9am and missed their chance. They were then appointed to come back again the following week. Often, they did not get the opportunity to have their blood samples taken and felt helpless.
“I know a client whose CD4 count was found to be eight,” Abebe told us. “Now, thanks to the POCT machine, I can have the data and tell the exact status of my client’s CD4 count with confidence.”
The POCT services are now becoming popular, both at the government level and at the grassroots level.
“The Oromia Regional Health Bureau is committed to working with partners,” Asfaw Endebu, Woreda Health Office Head, told us with great pride. “The woreda cabinet knows about the service provided at this Health Centre and we have recently started introducing it to the Health Workers and Health Extension Workers. We are informed about the availability of the machine, and that is why other HCs and HPOs refer cases to this centre.”
With the support of partners, 45 sites with high patient volume, like Chancho Health Centre, have received POCT machines at the initial stage. This ensures that women, like Rediet, and children in remote areas especially will not have to spend time and resources in order to discover their results. This will remove delays and enable more individuals to receive the treatment they need.
*Name changed to protect identity