Five clinics in Kafue district in Zambia are experiencing a serious shortage of dry blood spot (DBS) cards used for HIV testing in children under the age of 18 months.
The shortage has been going on since January 2012, according to the information given by healthcare providers working in the Maternal Child Health (MCH) department at Nangongwe Clinic in Kafue. Staff say the lack of DBS cards is forcing nurses to send children exposed to HIV away despite having adequate supplies of antiretrovirals (ARVs) available.
The other four clinics affected are Rail Clinic, Kafue Estate Clinic, Kafue District Hospital and Kafue Mission Hospital.
The MCH department sources say they have only managed to acquire seven DBS cards from the district health management officer during an outreach programme in Kafue. Staff say the seven DBS cards can only be used in emergency cases in instances where the baby is experiencing severe symptoms of HIV.
“We receive an average of five babies exposed to HIV seeking HIV testing services at Nangongwe Clinic every day but there is nothing we can do when we don’t have DBS cards, we have to send them away,” narrated one MCH health worker.
The situation has negatively affected women that come from far places who are unable to make the journey regularly to see if testing cards have become available.
The worker added: “It’s a sad situation to see children exposed to HIV being turned away due to non availability of DBS cards. We have ARVs for children but it’s unfortunate that we cannot test children due the non availability of DBS.”
MCH department staff say the clinic has made several requests to the Ministry of Health through the Kafue District office to send the much needed DBS cards but their requests have not been addressed.
According to the Zambia Country Report of 2010, 36% of infants born to HIV positive women received ARV prophylaxis to reduce mother to child HIV transmission.