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Mobile Diagnostic Lab May Help Combat TB and HIV in Tanzania

August 27, 2009
Pilot study examines the feasibility of implementing a mobile labThe Mbeya Medical Research Programme, a partner of Walter Reed Program-Tanzania and U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP), recently began a pilot study to determine the feasibility of im

The Mbeya Medical Research Programme, a partner of Walter Reed Program-Tanzania and U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP), recently began a pilot study to determine the feasibility of implementing a mobile diagnostic and training center to fight tuberculosis and HIV in Tanzania. The initiative may help enhance collaborative HIV/TB research and activities in the Mbeya region.

The Mobile Diagnostic and Training Center provides an opportunity to introduce TB/HIV co-diagnosis at the sub-district level through the National Healthcare Programme. The lab is an outstanding tool and resource for providing effective treatment for these conditions. In 24 hours, the mobile lab can diagnose and stage several HIV and TB cases. This could help eliminate some concerns over long time periods spent awaiting test results or treatment. The mobile unit has the capability to reach and diagnose large segments of the population, thereby fostering widespread education and awareness in the process.

The mobile lab is funded through EuropeAid / European Commission and is closely collaborating with the Walter Reed Program- Tanzania’s PEPFAR activities. The PEPFAR team provides counseling and referrals based on diagnosis. The mobile unit can reach patients who may not travel for service and is an example of being able to linking communities to healthcare.

The mobile lab boasts exceptional diagnostic technology for HIV and TB testing. The pilot study will consider the cost, sustainability, and degree of acceptance of this initiative among the population and in the regional health staff in Tanzania. Another aspect of the study will be to determine how quickly and effectively the mobile lab personnel can direct patients to the appropriate treatment facilities as well as assessing the training administered from the mobile lab staff to the health facility lab personnel through peer education.

TB is considered a global threat to public health. From 1983-2005, incidents of TB in Tanzania have increased almost six-fold, with a typical growth of 2-5% each year. The increase in TB cases has been linked to the HIV epidemic. Untreated HIV infection can lead to a depleted immune system and increased vulnerability to infections like TB. The mobile lab concept is an important step geared towards minimizing the spread of TB and other infectious diseases.

MHRP has conducted HIV research in Tanzania since 1999 in close collaboration with the Mbeya Medical Research Program (MMRP), which is a National Institute of Medical Research collaborating center.