EGPAF and UNITAID Launch New Initiative to Rapidly Scale-up Early Infant Diagnosis in Africa

Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of UNITAID (left), and Chip Lyons, President & CEO, EGPAF (right)

Eric Bond, EGPAF

Today, EGPAF and UNITAID announced an exciting new initiative that will rapidly scale-up early infant diagnosis efforts in nine EGPAF countries:  Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The four-year, US $63 million project aims to significantly increase the number of children living with HIV whose status is known. This initiative will make "point-of-care" testing more widely available to HIV-exposed infants early in their lives, when they are most at risk of dying, and enable those diagnosed with the virus to be put on lifesaving treatment more quickly.

Working in partnership with ministries of health in the project countries, the initiative aims to test more than 215,000 infants for HIV, reaching approximately 30 percent of unmet testing needs in these countries and saving as many as 27,000 lives.  
Improving early infant diagnosis is critical to initiating treatment promptly for HIV-infected infants and reducing mortality. Globally, more than 1.4 million babies are born to HIV-infected mothers. However, only half of those infants are tested in their first two months of life. Fifty percent of infants who are tested never receive their test results and therefore cannot be put on lifesaving treatment.

Identifying and treating HIV-infected babies as soon as possible after diagnosis greatly improves their chances of long-term survival.  Studies have shown that starting treatment within 12 weeks of birth reduces HIV-related mortality by 75 percent. The new initiative will aim to reduce the time it takes to deliver test results to health workers in the field to no more than two days, significantly minimizing the risk of infants dying while they wait for a test result. Currently, across the nine project countries, the return of test results to rural caregivers can take as long as 100 days, well beyond the critical 12-week period. 

“Every day, 600 children become newly infected with HIV. If we want these children to grow up and lead healthy, productive lives, we must put them on treatment as soon as possible. Being able to do that requires that infants, especially those in rural, underserved communities, have increased access to testing that is efficient, accurate, and most importantly, accessible,” said Charles Lyons, EGPAF president and CEO in a press release about the new initiative.

“Through our new partnership with UNITAID we can quickly identify and test infants who are at-risk as early as possible and reduce turnaround times for test results. A shorter window of time between testing and treatment means more infant lives will be saved.”

Stay tuned to the EGPAF blog and visit the UNITAID/EGPAF page to learn more about our new project with UNITAID and our ongoing efforts to end AIDS in children worldwide!