Time to implement 9-month infant HIV testing in South Africa

Lee Fairlie, Caitlin Anna Madevu-Matson, Vivian Black, Gayle G Sherman


Background. South Africa (SA) is likely to meet the National Strategic Plan target of <2% mother-to-child HIV transmission at 6 weeks of age in 2015. Children infected with HIV after 6 weeks often remain undiagnosed because of poor implementation of post-weaning and final outcome 18-month HIV testing. The World Health Organization recommends a screening HIV rapid test (HRT) in HIV-exposed infants at the 9-month immunisation visit to exclude postnatal infection, with a confirmatory HIV polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test if the HRT is positive.

Objective. To evaluate the impact of substituting this recommendation for the post-weaning HIV testing recommended by SA guidelines.

Methods. Rates of seroreversion and probability of infection at 9 months of age were applied to a theoretical population of 100 HIV-exposed infants, uninfected at birth and breastfed for 1 year with antiretroviral prophylaxis. Nine scenarios were developed and the number of HIV PCRs saved compared with current guidelines was calculated.

Results. Nine-month testing using the HRT reduced the number of follow-up PCR tests done in all scenarios by >50%, with differences ranging from 51% to 59% and 81% to 89% for low and high seroreversion rates, respectively.

Conclusions. Nine-month testing using HRT would increase identification and early treatment of HIV-infected infants, improve monitoring of postnatal transmission rates, and reduce the number of HIV PCR tests done with resultant cost saving. Training of healthcare workers implementing HRT would be required. Ongoing efforts to improve implementation and monitoring of testing at 9 and 18 months will be essential.

Authors' affiliations

Lee Fairlie, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

Caitlin Anna Madevu-Matson, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; ICAP at Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA

Vivian Black, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Gayle G Sherman, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; Centre for HIV and STI, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa

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HIV testing; South African infants; nine months

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2015;105(9):765-768. DOI:10.7196/SAMJnew.8175

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-03-23
Date published: 2015-09-14

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