CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A South African company’s idea to convert shipping containers into high-tech AIDS laboratories should be copied across Africa, an executive for its U.S. medical equipment supplier said on Tuesday.
A lack of quality laboratory services in the world’s poorest continent hampers the battle against HIV/AIDS, with the sub-Saharan Africa region hardest hit by the global pandemic which kills millions each year.
“I think its a very exciting concept and I think it is one that can be replicated across Africa,” Krista Thompson, general manager for global health at Becton Dickinson & Co, told Reuters on a site visit to Gugulethu township near Cape Town.
Gugulethu is the site of the first containerized AIDS laboratory from Toga Labs, a private South African molecular diagnostics laboratory. BD supplies equipment to the lab.
With its multitude of tin shacks, poor water supplies and limited electricity access, Gugulethu is typical of poor settlements across Africa.
Established in 2004, the Gugulethu lab provides testing for about 4,500 people on antiretroviral drugs, and is one of 10 operating in South Africa.
Africa’s strongest economy has one of the world’s highest AIDS burdens with an estimated 1 in 5 infected out of a population of 47 million.
“Its very important for the use of drugs to have good diagnostics and laboratory services to go along with that. First we need to know who to treat and then we need to know whether the treatment was working or not,” Thompson said.
Des Martin, a director at Toga, told Reuters: “You can’t have antiretroviral programs without laboratory support, its dangerous. So this provides the means for people who live very far away to have standard of care on their doorstep.”
He said diagnostics could be extended to include tests for tuberculosis, diabetes and other diseases.
The United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief was supporting another five planned container labs in South Africa, two in Malawi, two in Zambia and one in Liberia, Martin said. Each fully equipped lab costs in the region of $250,000.
The Gugulethu lab, run by a medical technologist and an administrator, processes an estimated 11,000 blood samples a year, Martin said.
“We believe this is a model for the developing world in resource constrained settings,” he said.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf