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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Is anyone keeping track of those false HIV tests?

9th January 2012
Editorial Cartoon

After being caught sort of unawares by a World Health Organisation alert, as quickly picked up by this paper, Tanzania on Thursday last week announced the immediate recall of invalid HIV/Aids reagent SD Bioline to the Medical Stores Department.

Health and Social Welfare minister Dr Haji Mponda said the government had effectively banned the importation and distribution of the batches of the said reagent, also suggesting that orders for new stock had been placed.

We appreciate the minister’s honesty, particularly in that he readily admitted that the ineffective reagents had made it across Tanzania, that the tests so made did not indicate whether the person screened for HIV was positive or negative, and that it took quite some time before the results of the tests were established.

In remarks that make the whole picture all the foggier, Dr Mponda told journalists that the SD Bioline in use in Tanzania until the ban was approved by WHO and other international and national organisations and agencies such as the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Private Health Laboratories Board, and the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority.

This, also from the minister’s own mouth, may stand as some form of tonic: regional medical officers are also responsible for holding post-market surveillance before using the reagents and for conducting an evaluation of the National HIV Rapid Testing Algorithm that combines reagents approved by WHO and registered in Tanzania.

Be that as it may, and disregarding the medical jargon, the fact remains that some of our people have been subjected to hopelessly defective HIV screening and may therefore have ended up rejoicing – when they shouldn’t – and vice versa.

Dr Mponda has made an impassioned appeal to people to continue seeing the need to visit HIV screening and counselling centres to scientifically establish the status of their health.

Very fine. However, the relevant experts and government authorities have the duty to prove to a panicky public waiting for assurance to the contrary that there is really nothing really serious in the raging controversy over the invalid SB Bioline.

What’s more, some ordinary citizens might now decide to treat with suspicion some of what they will be given at hospitals, dispensaries, clinics and other health facilities as results of the diagnostic tests to which they will be subjected.

Such fears should not be taken lightly as they might seriously disrupt a national health service delivery system we believe the Health and Social Welfare ministry would like to see vastly improved.

We meanwhile hope that all concerned, particularly in the health sector, will continue to be professional enough to say things have gone wrong when things have indeed gone wrong instead of seeking to sugar-coat bitter pills. This is important as medical knowledge is no longer that much of the preserve of medical experts.

Our advice to the Health and Social Welfare ministry is that it should take urgent measures to explain what it is doing to ensure that all those in respect of whose HIV tests the invalid reagent was used are traced and subjected to proper tests. That is, assuming that has not been done.

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