MANY people living with HIV and Aids in Harare who cannot afford costs of the CD4 cell count that determines the type of medication they must receive are having a nightmarish experience as they are spending entire nights queuing to get tested.
CD4 count is a blood test to determine how well the immune system is working in people who have been diagnosed with HIV.
The free service, where results are released promptly, is understood to be offered only at New Start Centre along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue in the capital.
NewsDay witnessed hordes of patients at around 2am on Sunday at the centre where they narrated their ordeals.
“I arrived here around 1am because if I were to come late, I would not be served as they are only attending to 25 patients a day,” said one patient who claimed to have come from Highfield.
Another patient said she had to come to the New Start Centre as she needed her results urgently.
“I need my CD4 count urgently as I was given tomorrow as my appointment date at the clinic. They need those results before prescribing medication to me. Unfortunately they are not conducting CD4 count to expecting mothers at Kuwadzana Polyclinic where I get my treatment,” bemoaned the patient, who said she had arrived around 3am, but was number 11 in the queue.
Tendai Mhaka, the training and programmes manager of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV, said more centres which offer free CD4 count service should be established throughout the country.
“It shows there is an acute shortage of CD4 counting machines. It further proves the need to establish more facilities like New Start Centres which offer all requirements for people living with HIV, from counselling to anti-retroviral treatment and CD4 count, all under one roof,” she said.
Contacted for comment, Dr Owen Mugurungi, the director for Aids and TB Programmes in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, said it would be costly to establish such specific centres.
“The ministry believes in integrating services,” Mugurungi said. “As you are aware, we do not have enough health staff. Coming up with that arrangement becomes more expensive even to patients themselves as they would have to shuttle between that centre and hospitals to get other treatments they may require,” he said.
Mugurungi, however, added that as far as he was concerned, CD4 count was being offered free of charge to those who could not afford.
“To get free medication, one is supposed to have letters from the Department of Social Welfare, which is why I think many of them are avoiding that route,” he said.
Efforts to get comment from non-governmental organisation Population Services International, which runs New Start Centres, were unsuccessful as their telephone numbers rang unanswered.