BACKGROUND: Timely diagnosis and early initiation of life-saving antiretroviral therapy are critical factors in preventing mortality among HIV-infected infants. However, resource-limited settings experience numerous challenges associated with centralised laboratory-based testing, including low rates of testing, complex sample referral pathways and unacceptably long turnaround times for results. Point-of-care (POC) HIV testing for HIV-exposed infants can enable same-day communication of results and early treatment initiation for HIV-infected infants. However, complex operational issues and service integration can limit utility and must be well understood prior to implementation. We explored and documented the challenges and enabling factors in implementing the POC Xpert® HIV-1 Qual test (Cepheid, Sunnyvale, CA, USA) for early infant diagnosis (EID) as part of routine services in four public hospitals in Myanmar. METHODS: This sub-study was part of a randomised controlled stepped-wedge trial (Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, number 12616000734460) designed to investigate the impact of POC testing for EID in Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. Infants recruited during the intervention phase underwent POC testing at the participating hospitals as part of routine care. Semi-structured interviews with 23 caregivers, 12 healthcare providers and 10 key informants were used to explore experiences of POC-EID testing. The research team and hospital staff documented and discussed implementation challenges throughout the study. RESULTS: Overall, caregivers and healthcare workers were satisfied with the short turnaround time of the POC test. Occasional delays in POC testing were mostly attributable to late receipt of samples by laboratory technicians and communication constraints among healthcare staff. Hospital staff valued technical assistance from the research group and the National Health Laboratory. Despite staff shortages and infrastructure challenges such as unreliable electricity supply and cramped space, healthcare workers and caregivers found the implementation of the POC test to be feasible at pilot sites. CONCLUSIONS: As plans for national scale-up evolve, there needs to be a continual focus on staff training, communication pathways and infrastructure. Other models of care, such as allowing non-laboratory-trained personnel to perform POC testing, and cost effectiveness should also be evaluated.
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Funding was provided by the NHMRC Project Grant GNT1063725. The funder
has no role in study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation and
decision to submit for publication.