New rapid diagnostic test for HIV and Syphilis piloted in five Pacific Island countries

Jul 12, 2017

Laboratory and antenatal clinic staff from Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu attend a training on a new diagnostic test for HIV and Syphilis, supported by the Multi-Country Western Pacific Programme (Photo: UNDP/Ian Mungall)

By Ian Mungall

Nadi, Fiji - A new diagnostic test for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Syphilis is set to be piloted in five countries in the Pacific as part of efforts by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Multi-Country Western Pacific Programme to improve the public health response to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

A workshop was held on the 27 – 28 June 2017 in Nadi, Fiji to train laboratory and antenatal clinic staff on Standard Diagnostics Bioline HIV/Syphilis (or SD Duo) – a recently developed rapid diagnostic test that can detect HIV and Syphilis infection using finger prick blood or serum. 

Participants from five countries in the region (Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu) joined the two-day workshop. The same five countries will be the sites for the pilot project, beginning in the third quarter of 2017.  

Existing tests in use in the region for HIV and Syphilis require strong laboratory infrastructure, well-trained technicians and require patients to return for a follow-up appointment to get their test results. The SD Duo rapid test will introduce point of care testing, resulting in a much quicker turnaround, vastly reduced ‘loss to follow-up’ and improved treatment rates. 

In her opening remarks, Global Fund Programme Manager at the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Maisoon Elbukhari Ibrahim said, “This initiative aims to achieve one of the key objectives of the Multi-Country Western Pacific Programme – to accelerate access to the new generation of HIV and STI point of care diagnostic products.” 

“The intention is not to replace other screening tests currently in use in the Pacific, such as the Determine HIV-1/2 Ab Rapid Test Kit, but to introduce a new alternative screen test. Countries will be able to use both products, based on their programme preferences.” 

The pilot will focus on patients attending antenatal clinics (ANCs) and aim to review the applicability of SD Duo for a wider roll out across all Pacific island countries. It will help to identify challenges to implementation and logistics, and will contribute to ensuring a successful regional rollout. 

"There are two important benefits associated with introducing the SD Duo kit,” said Reproductive Health Technical Adviser with the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Pulane Tlebere who is also one of the facilitators of the training. 

“Firstly, it is a move in the right direction in terms of strengthening integration of sexual and reproductive health, STIs and HIV services for pregnant women and their families, and secondly, it will avail services to women living even in the remotest areas, thus ensuring no one is left behind in line with provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals."  

SD Duo has been recommended by the Pacific Islands Regional Country Coordinating Mechanism for use as a screening tool in Pacific island countries because of concerns over high prevalence of Syphilis, and low HIV and Syphilis testing amongst ANC attendees and key affected populations. The test is also a cost-effective intervention, amounting to about US$1.98 per test. This is cheaper than the existing diagnostic test and requires no sophisticated equipment and can be performed in laboratories with limited facilities as well as in non-laboratory settings.

The training workshop follows a ‘training of trainers’ format, whereby participants will subsequently return to their home countries and pass on their knowledge to pilot site colleagues. The method is a proven cost effective way to reach large numbers of health care workers. 

The pilot will last for a total of three months, after which a report will be produced within the end of 2017. Wider rollout of the SD Duo test is expected in early 2018.  

*Ian Mungall is a Programme Analyst for HIV, Health and Development at UNDP's Bangkok Regional Hub

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