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21.04.2004 Regional News

Laboratory policy on AIDS testing advocated

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Elmina (C/R), April 21, GNA- The Ghana office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday called for a national laboratory policy on HIV/AIDS testing, to regulate the activities of laboratory service providers in the country.

This is to help stem wrong diagnosis in HIV/ADS management, a factor, which has been hindering treatment of HIV/AIDS. Mr Napoleon Graham, Technical Officer at the WHO office, made the call at the opening of a four-day 'leadership development programme' aimed at enhancing the capabilities of people in leadership positions and evolve more effective ways in the fight against the disease. The programme, the third in a series and being organised by the UNDP. It is being attended by some Members of Parliament (MPS), media practitioners, and representatives of non-governmental and community based organisations, traditional rulers and other UN agencies. Explaining a new WHO initiative dubbed "3 by 5" which aims at providing three million People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) with Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) by the year 2005, Mr Graham said there were certain gaps in the management of HIV/AIDS in the country, such as inadequate 'CD-4 Count' machines.

He said the machines enable health providers to count the body cells, which fight HIV infections, and that a person living with HIV/AIDS with a low CD-4 count, "less than a certain threshold", could be at a critical clinical stage.

Mr Graham noted that different countries have different thresholds, and that Ghana, considers a PLWHA with less than 200 CD-4 counts, as "critically ill and in need of ART.

"Currently, it is only the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and the SGS Medical Laboratory, also in Accra, that have the CD-4 count facility, and that efforts are being made to procure some for the Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye teaching hospitals.

On the "3 by 5" initiative, launched in the country in December last year, he said 2,000 PLWAs, were currently receiving ART at four sites including Manya Krobo and the two teaching hospitals, facilitated by Family Health International and USAID.

He said it is expected that by 2005, 29,000 PLWAs in the country would have benefited from the programme.

Mr Graham said the programme would be scaled up to other regions, adding that the ART was "hospital-based and physician-led", to ensure that once a patient starts taking the drugs, he/she continued for life. He said a number of health personnel including 60 doctors and 100 nurses, and other para medicals, were being trained for the programme, which is being supported by 120 Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centres.

Mr Albert Fawundu, UNDP Resident Representative, in his opening address, expressed concern about the disease weakening the human resource base in the country and stressed that "the battle must be won at all cost".

He urged members of Parliament to take up the challenge of leading the crusade against AIDS, since they wield a lot power as the people's representative.

He cautioned that Ghana's current 3.5 prevalent infection rate, which was comparatively lower, should not serve as a basis for complacency because there were higher regional variations of infections in the country.

On the acquisition of more CD-4 count machines, Mr Fawundu called for effective mobilisation of funds, to enhance the accurate diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

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