Chip Lyons Visits EGPAF-Supported Clinic, New Technology in Rwanda

After winding our way through the rolling, terraced hills of Kigali, Rwanda, we ascended a steep driveway and arrived at the Cor Unum Health Center. Opened in 2001 to meet the health needs of the densely populated Kimisagara neighborhood of Kigali, the center offers a complete package of HIV and maternal and child health services, and was bustling with patients that morning. My visit to the center was to see how the initial introduction of Point-of-Care (POC) Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) technology was working.

While the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in Rwanda has supported the Cor Unum Health Center to provide clinical HIV services since 2005, our work with their staff on the use of the POC EID machines began one month before our visit.

We were greeted warmly by Nurse Faustine Kwena who explained that she and her team of nurses and lab technicians – 10 people total – only began to receive training on the new machines in September 2017.

In reflecting on her nursing career at the center, she described the challenges she has experienced in trying to encourage an HIV-positive mother to keep returning back to the clinic for HIV test results of her baby, so that if positive, the baby could immediately be initiated on treatment. With the capacity to turn around a test result on the same day, the new POC EID machine will dramatically improve the center’s ability to diagnosis HIV exposed infants; Nurse Kwena was excited and optimistic to have access to this technology and provide better care for her patients.

Cor Unum Health Center started to use the POC machines just two days prior to our visit, and Nurse Kwena proudly told us that all the infants who had come for their early infant diagnosis appointment had been tested and received their results the same day. Without the POC machine, the infant test result could have taken between 30 to 90 days to get back to the infant’s caregiver. This new technology is dramatically closing the gap between testing and initiation of treatment, when necessary.

 

 

While I have been most excited about the direct benefits to patients that the POC machines provide (to quickly identify HIV-positive infants and start them on treatment) my visit to Cor Unum Health Center highlighted the positive impact of these machines on the health system and for health care workers. Seeing Nurse Kwena’s enthusiasm and commitment to the health of her patients was a great reminder that health professionals enter this field with a passion to serve. Innovative tools, such as the POC EID machines, enable nurses and doctors to provide a higher quality of care for their patients, which they take great pride in. 

In touring the laboratory where the POC machine is located, a technician demonstrated how she performed the diagnostic test with the machine, and remarked that she could initiate the test and then confidently leave it to run for the course of the hour it required, while getting other work done in the lab.  Despite experiencing some initial technical difficulties with the machine’s ability to upload data to a central location, which were quickly resolved through a visit by a service technician, she beamed with satisfaction at how she could work more efficiently with the help of the new POC EID machine.

I look forward to seeing how we can continue to innovate and use technology to improve efficiencies with our work – but also continue to help the dedicated community of healthcare workers have access to the tools they need to thrive.