Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health is working to accelerate the scale-up of viral load testing in a partnership project with EQUIP Kheth’Impilo in the Chitungwiza District. By the end of 2017, the partners aim to ensure that at least 80% of all patients eligible for routine and targeted viral load testing will have been offered viral load tests.

Zimbabwe has adopted an aggressive target for viral load scale-up. The success of these plans requires additional capacity across the continuum of health care as well as support from implementing partners.

The Zimbabwe Ministry of Health opted to implement a project that would demonstrate ways to improve viral load monitoring after a national population survey in 2016 found that although 60% of people on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) were virally suppressed, only 3% had received a viral load test result. The demonstration project is an implementation initiative delivered in partnership with the Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID), Population Services International (PSI), EQUIP and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Assessments are being made at facility-level and of laboratory capacity needed to conduct viral load testing, using a Rapid Laboratory Capacity Assessment tool developed by EQUIP partner, the National Health Laboratory Service based in South Africa. With these insights, EQUIP is working to improve efficiencies in specimen collection, transport systems and storage.

Interventions, such as the purchase of motorbikes and diagnostic equipment, is helping to ensure a dedicated transport service to collect specimens from the feeding health facilities and deliver the results of the monitoring tests. The project also includes training of healthcare workers to raise awareness of the importance and availability of routine viral load monitoring, as well as providing laboratory equipment to help increase capacity for viral load testing at site level. A case in point is the New Start Centre at Chitungwiza District, where the goal is to ensure samples reach the lab within six hours, and deliver results within a turn-around time of seven days.

“EQUIP is excited about the viral load scale-up demonstration project in Chitungwiza,” said Dr. Benson Chirwa, Country Director for EQUIP Kheth’Impilo, Zimbabwe. “Clearly this is a great opportunity to work with the Ministry of Health and our implementing partners including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as those providing facility support on accelerating viral load scale-up in line with national policy. The partnership project will also help document viral suppression as we achieve greater testing coverage.”