Near Point-of-Care HIV Viral Load: Targeted Testing at Large Facilities

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2021 Feb 1;86(2):258-263. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000002555.


Introduction: Point-of-care (POC) technologies in resource-limited settings can circumvent challenges of centralized laboratory testing, improving clinical management. However, higher device costs and uncertain indications for use have inhibited scaling up POC modalities. To address this gap, we investigated the feasibility and cost of targeted near-POC viral load (VL) testing in 2 large HIV clinics in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Methods: VL testing using GeneXpert was targeted for patients suspected of treatment failure or returning to care after a previously elevated VL (>1000 copies/mL). Descriptive analysis of retrospective clinical and cost data is presented.

Results: Two thousand eight hundred thirteen near-POC VL tests were conducted. One thousand five hundred eleven (54%) tests were for patients for whom results and reason for the test were documented: 57% (794/1389) of tests were to confirm a previously high VL, and 33% (462/1389) were due to clinical indications. Sixty-one percent (926/1511) of patients had a high VL, of whom 78% (719/926) had a recorded clinical action: 77% (557/719) switched to second line antiretroviral therapy, and 15% (194/719) were referred for intensive adherence counseling. Eighty-two percent (567/687) of patients received a clinical action on the same day as testing. The "all-in" cost was $33.71 for a valid POC VL test, compared with an international benchmark for a centralized VL test of $28.62.

Conclusion: Targeted, near-POC VL testing was feasible and consistently enabled prompt clinical action. The difference between the "all-in" cost of near-POC VL and centralized testing of $5.09 could be further reduced in an optimized national program by combining targeted near-POC testing and centralized testing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Point-of-Care Systems* / economics
  • Point-of-Care Testing* / economics
  • Serologic Tests / methods*
  • Treatment Failure
  • Viral Load / methods*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents