People living with HIV and AIDS in Masvingo have lamented the shortage of viral load testing machines at hospitals, a situation which makes it hard to measure the amount of HIV virus in their blood in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Speaking during a viral load testing awareness campaign organised by the Southern Africa AIDS Information and Dissemination Services (SafAIDS) in partnership with the Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV and Aids (ZNNP+) at Nyika Growth point recently, HIV positive patients said they have to wait for close to a month after their blood samples are taken before they can know the amount of the virus in their bodies.
"We go to hospitals here in Bikita for viral load testing and we have to wait for the results for close to a month as the blood samples are sent to Mutare hospital. We do not get the services here due to lack of machines and this leaves us in the dark concerning the amount of HIV in our bodies," said one patient.
According to figures from the National AIDS Council (NAC), there are 10 083 HIV positive patients who are on Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in Bikita District alone.
Speaking at the same function, ZNNP+ communications and advocacy officer, Edmore Mutimodyo said the lack of the facility compromises the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"We would want a situation where our members can go for viral load testing after every six months and get their results instantly as prescribed by the WHO," Mutimodyo said.
SafAIDS country Training and Advocacy Program Coordinator Adolf Mavheneke said monitoring the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment becomes difficult in such circumstances.
"It is like shooting in the dark as monitoring becomes problematic. Ideally, the facility should be accessible by all those living with the disease," Mavheneke added.
Masvingo Provincial Medical Director, Dr Amadeus Shamu acknowledged that Masvingo General Hospital does not have the machine but said that the machines have since been put in the Ministry's national program to make sure they are available at all hospitals.
"Yes, Masvingo General Hospital doesn't have the machine but having the machine installed at hospitals is actually on our program as a province. Government has since roped in partners who have shown interest in having the machines installed though currently only Gutu has received the machine. More will be coming to cover all hospitals," Dr Shamu said.
WHO statistics show that all people living with HIV and AIDS should ascertain the viral load in their bodies every six months for prognosis and prevention as purposes as well as for therapy management.
The HIV viral load may also be used to help determine whether the virus infecting a person has become drug-resistant.
If a patient does not respond well to treatment and the amount of virus continues to increase, the virus could be resistant to that particular treatment and in such circumstances the treatment may then be modified.news