Introduction: Early infant diagnosis (EID) of HIV infection is an important service to reduce paediatric morbidity and mortality related to HIV/AIDS. Although South Africa has a national EID programme based on PCR testing, there are no population-wide data on the linkage of infants testing HIV PCR-positive to HIV care and treatment services.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of all public sector laboratory data from across the Western Cape province between 2005 and 2011. We linked positive HIV PCR results to subsequent HIV viral load testing to determine the proportion of infants who were successfully linked to HIV care.
Results: A total of 83 698 unique infant HIV PCR tests were documented, of which 6322 (8%) were PCR positive. The proportion of PCR-positive children declined from 12% in 2005 to 3% in 2011. Of the children testing PCR-positive, 4105 (65%) had subsequent viral load testing indicating successful linkage to care. The proportion of successfully linked infants increased from 54% in 2005 to 71% in 2010, while the median delay in days to successful linkage decreased from 146 days in 2005 to 33 days in 2010.
Discussion: From 2005 to 2011 there has been a reduction in the proportion of children testing HIV PCR-positive, and an increase in the proportion of infected infants successfully linked to HIV care and treatment, in this setting. However a large proportion of infected infants remain unlinked to antiretroviral therapy services and there is a clear need for interventions to further strengthen EID programmes.