An international team of researchers has developed the first portable, low-cost HIV test that can monitor the progression of the disease, allowing health-care workers to ascertain when treatment is needed.
Suzanne Crowe, from the Burnet Institute, said yesterday that she and three other Australian and American scientists have created the test, similar in design to a home pregnancy test, which works with a finger-prick blood sample to measure the numbers of CD4+ T-cells in a person's blood.
CD4+ T-cells are critical for a healthy functioning immune system and are slowly destroyed during the course of an HIV infection, thereby making patients increasingly vulnerable to illness.
Crowe said that the test could be used in developing countries, where most people did not have access to CD4 testing because it was expensive and relied on sophisticated laboratory testing and trained operators.
"This is a unique test," the Age quoted Crowe as saying.
"There is nothing available that can test the immune system like this without laboratory facilities. It can be taken into remote villages and performed on the spot.
"This test will allow millions of people to get treatment, because many governments say they will provide treatment for people with a certain CD4 count, but if those people can't get that count, they can't access treatment," Crowe added.
Crowe said the test was undergoing clinical studies in the United States, Britain and Australia to ensure it produced a reliable result.