Six years on, machine to detect AIDS virus faster lies unused
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Six years after it was inaugurated with much fanfare at Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former US President Bill Clinton, the first machine in Asia to detect HIV in newborns is still to be put to use.
The National AIDS Control Organization(NACO), has now decided to "shift" the machine to the premises of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), so that the Rs35-lakh machine can be made operational.
The DNA Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine has the ability to diagnose HIV in infants below 18 months of age, by evaluating dried blood samples. Under the National Paediatric HIV/AIDS treatment protocol, developed by NACO in 2006, this was seen as a big step to control mother to child transmission of HIV, since the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test — the conventional HIV test, cannot detect the virus in children below two years, due to the presence of maternal antibodies. Official NACO figures estimate that nearly 60,000 HIV positive babies are born in the country every year.
However, six institutions across the country, including NCDC —where PCR machines were installed over the last two years — have already started conducting tests.
At LHMC, the machine has been lying unused and its room locked up, reportedly for want of skilled personnel to man it.
According to a senior NACO official in paediatric HIV, "As per the original agreement, NACO only had the responsibility of purchase and installation. The institute(LHMC) had to take ownership and depute necessary staff to run it." He added that the microbiology department of the institute had failed to recruit the necessary staff. "It is a highly skilled job, and as we have seen, maybe even beyond the expertise of existing microbiologists in medical colleges. In Delhi, the machine is being run only at NCDC," the official said.
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