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For Many HIV-Positive In Zimbabwe, Immune System Tests Unaffordable

Zimbabwe authorities say they are concerned that the high cost of diagnostic tests for people living with the AIDS virus is hampering efforts to mitigate the pandemic.

Machines used to measure the level of CD-4 or T-cells in HIV-positive patients are in short supply, and scarce foreign exchange is required to purchase the materials used in the test. Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told the United Nations news service IRIN that the shortage of machines and scarcity of materials has driven up costs.

CD4 cells provide a measure of the strength of the immune system, how far the AIDS virus has progressed, and helps predict the risk of complications and infection.

Health officials are concerned that the lack of testing capacity will lead to guesswork by medical workers who must decide if antiretroviral drug therapy is needed. A CD-4 count under 200 usually means antiretroviral drug therapy is needed to forestall the onset of full-blown AIDS. Those with a count over 200 may not yet need ARVs.

CD-4 testing is recommended every six months for those who carry the AIDS virus, but the tests now cost anywhere from Z$25,000 to Z$50,000 US$100-200).

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of Studio 7 For Zimbabwe sought more on the cost-crunch in CD-4 testing from Elaisha Chidombwe, executive director of the Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention and Support Organization and physician Douglas Gwatidzo, who is the chairman of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights.

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