This Ministry of Health and Child Care program is supported by AFRICAID Zvandiri and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).
POC EID is a program which focuses on testing infants exposed to HIV and AIDS at 6weeks, at the point of receiving care.
Speaking on the program the POC EID focal person for Matabeleland North province Perpetual Mthombeni pointed out that POC EID is a welcome development in managing HIV and AIDS in children.
“The POC EID machines (Alere Q) make it easier for children exposed to HIV to be tested at six weeks and get their results in an hour. The machine runs for 51 minutes and we have various health care workers trained to use it.
“Before this technology the children were tested using the dry blood sample (DBS) test, it would take up to 3 months to get the results.
“The DBS tests results took longer to be delivered to the client because they were done only in Bulawayo and Harare. Some of the results were lost and we were forced to do re-tests, some were delayed up to three months such that it made it so difficult to do follow ups on mothers in rural areas”, she said.
Mthombeni plays a major role as a focal person for the program.
“My duty is supporting implementation. We train workers in all districts before implementation, supporting health facilities in setting up POC EID corner , providing resources, documentation including registers, conduct post trainings, mentorship, identify needs and check on the stocks. This is meant to make sure that the project is going smoothly.
“So far we have rolled out the program in two districts and it is doing well. Next month we will be implementing it to the other three districts”, she said.
This program has helped to lower the mother to child transmission rate of HIV as well as the number of HIV and AIDS related deaths in children.
A beneficiary of the program who refused to be named argued that the POC EID and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) saved his two sons’ lives.
“I was diagnosed with HIV in 2010, I have four children and the first child was not tested at birth, he was tested later and is negative, I had him when I was not yet positive.
“The second one was tested using the DBS test, it took two months for us to know his status. Even after he was given Nevirapine at birth and all, I was worried because I was breastfeeding him, the two months wait was the longest wait in my life and I was scared, the experience was nerve wrecking, when we finally got the results they were negative thanks to PMCTC.
“When I had my last born last year(2017), everything worked perfectly, he was tested at six weeks and we got results within hour, my baby tested negative”, said the beneficiary.
Another woman, a beneficiary of the program argued that early detection made it easy for her son who was found HIV positive to be initiated on Art.
“My son tested positive, it was painful, but I am happy because he was immediately initiated on ART and he is healthy and has never fallen sick,” she said.
The Sister in Charge of Chinotimba and Mkhosana Clinics Sheila Rudzuna, said health care workers were happy with this development.
“POC EID was initiated in September 2017, since then things have been much better, we now do the 6 weeks tests for babies exposed to HIV and get results in an hour if it is a hub site and if the test is done at a spoke site which then sends the sample to a hub site it takes up to a maximum of 24 hours.
“In my area 26 cases have been tested since the inception of the program and none tested positive.
“We should have more facilities doing that and more machines would benefit the community a lot. These machines are also reducing the workload for health care workers,” said Sister Rudzuna.
The EGPAF technical advisor of the Point of Care Early Infant Diagnosis Admore Chadambuka expressed his excitement for the program.
“The program is working perfectly. Data shows that turnaround times for results have drastically reduced compared to the time when DBS testing was in use. All positive infants have been initiated on ART within two days of diagnosis.
“The hub and spoke model we have in place has also enabled sites close to the testing machine to benefit from the new technology.
He also pointed out the changes influenced by the program.
“The changes we are seeing are that the turnaround time to caregivers receiving results is decreasing, ART initiation among infants increasing, Mothers are happy to receive results in a short space of time. Health workers are happy because now they can manage clients better.
“ In the end I hope we will be able to reduce turnaround time for getting results and make sure all children who test positive are put on treatment as early as possible to avert morbidity and mortality” he said.