Accurate dried blood spots collection in the community using non-medically trained personnel could support scaling up routine viral load testing in resource limited settings

Academic Article


  • Regular plasma HIV-RNA testing for persons living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) is now the global standard, but as many as 60% of persons in Africa today on ART do not have access to standard laboratory HIV-RNA assays. As a result, patients in Zambia often receive treatment without any means of determining true virologic failure, which poses a risk of premature switch of ART regimens and widespread HIV drug resistance. Dry blood spots (DBS) on the other hand require unskilled personnel and less complex storage supply chain so are ideal to capture viral-load results from HIV patients outside clinic settings. We assess collection of DBS in the community using non-medically trained personnel (NMP) and documented challenges. We trained 23 NMP to collect DBS from lost to follow-up (LTFU) patients in 4 rural and urban Zambian districts. We developed a phlebotomy box to transport DBS without contamination at ambient temperature and concomitant training and standard operating procedures. We evaluated this through field observations, bi-weekly meetings, reports, and staff meetings. The laboratory assessed DBS quality for testing validity. We attempted to collect DBS from 357 participants in the community. Though individual reasons for refusal from the remaining 37% were not collected, NMPs reported privacy concerns, awkward box-size which drew attention in the community and fears of undisclosed uses of samples related to witchcraft and circulating narratives about past research. Successful DBS collection was not associated with patient gender, age, time on ART, enrolment CD4, facility. DBS viral-load collection by NMP is feasible in Zambia. Our training approach and assessments of NMP not part of the health system can be extended to patients by giving them more responsibility to manage their own differentiated care groups. Concerted efforts that compare collection of DBS by NMP to those collected by skilled-medical personnel are needed.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • PLoS ONE  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Sikombe K; Hantuba C; Musukuma K; Sharma A; Padian N; Holmes C; Czaicki N; Simbeza S; Somwe P; Bolton-Moore C
  • Volume

  • 14
  • Issue

  • 10