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Africans not helped by HIV lab tests

21st July 2009

A top international HIV/AIDS conference in South Africa is waiting to hear the results of key clinical trials, the largest ever done on the continent.

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Scientists will announce the results of the Dart clinical trial, which tracked more than 3,500 patients over a six-year period.

The team is expected to show that there is scant benefit to Africans living in remote villages with HIV to be had from routine laboratory testing, a routine part of treatment up until now.

Such tests, normally used elsewhere to make sure medicines are working and to check for side-effects, are expensive and hard to keep up when people live many hours' drive away from pathology laboratories.

The results may pave the way for a new strategy in which it becomes easier and cheaper to get life-saving medicines to African villages, without requiring patients to make long and expensive trips to nearby cities for testing.

Testing, the research found, did little to improve survival rates of African patients, and just got in the way of a more effective HIV/AIDS strategy.

The research team found that a strategy which eliminated the need for testing, focusing instead on delivery of medicines to village clinics, would be of greater benefit to Africans living with HIV, of whom there are six million.

Only a third of HIV patients in African countries are getting anti-retroviral drugs, which stop the disease from developing in the current absence of a cure.

The team followed patients in three countries, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom for the Dart trial.

Trained healthcare workers can support doctors in providing close supervision and support, thereby giving HIV treatment to many more patients close to where they live.

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