Birth Testing for Infant HIV Diagnosis in Eswatini: Implementation Experience and Uptake Among Women Living With HIV in Manzini Region

Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2020 May 21. doi: 10.1097/INF.0000000000002734. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: HIV testing at birth of HIV-exposed infants (HEIs) may improve the identification of infants infected with HIV in utero and accelerate antiretroviral treatment (ART) initiation.

Methods: ICAP at Columbia University supported implementation of a national pilot of HIV testing at birth (0-7 days) in Eswatini at 2 maternity facilities. Dried blood spot (DBS) samples from neonates of women living with HIV (WLHIV) were collected and processed at the National Molecular Reference Laboratory using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Mothers received birth test results at community health clinics. We report data on HIV birth testing uptake and outcomes for HIV-positive infants from the initial intensive phase (October 2017-March 2018) and routine support phase (April-December 2018).

Results: During the initial intensive pilot phase, 1669 WLHIV delivered 1697 live-born HEI at 2 health facilities and 1480 (90.3%) HEI received birth testing. During the routine support phase, 2546 WLHIV delivered and 2277 (93.5%) HEI received birth testing. Overall October 2017-December 2018, 22 (0.6%) infants of 3757 receiving birth testing had a positive PCR test, 15 (68.2%) of whom were successfully traced and linked for confirmatory testing (2 infants were reported by caregivers to have negative follow-up HIV tests). Median time from birth test to receipt of results by the caregiver was 13 days (range: 8-23). Twelve (60.0%) of 20 infants confirmed to be HIV-positive started ART at median age of 17.5 days (12-43). One mother of an HIV-positive infant who was successfully traced refused ART following linkage to care and another child died after ART initiation. Three infants (15.0%) had died by the time their mothers were reached and 4 (15.0%) infants were never located.

Conclusion: This pilot of universal birth testing in Eswatini demonstrates the feasibility of using a standard of care approach in a low resource and high burden setting. We document high uptake of testing for newborns among HIV-positive mothers and very few infants were found to be infected through birth testing.