CD4 count threshold expected to increase
MBABANE – Minister of Health Benedict Xaba says the CD4 count threshold for people living with HIV and AIDS is expected to increase from 350 to 550.
A CD4 count refers to the amount of CD4 cells in the immune system, particularly in a person living with HIV and AIDS.
CD4 cells, also called T-cells, help protect the body from infection.
HIV attacks these types of cells and uses them to make more copies of HIV.
And in doing so, HIV weakens the immune system, making it unable to protect the body from illness and infection.
Xaba, in an interview, said government is embarking on a new health programme known as Maximising ART (MaxART).
He said it was envisaged that the programme would help prolong the life of an individual who is HIV-positive.
The programme will promote the concept of treatment as prevention and thereby improve the quality of health and life. The treatment referred to here is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).
"In the country, the main CD4 count started from 200, but then increased to 350 as the health of the HIV-positive improved due to ART. As we get on the MaxART programme we are looking at an increased CD4 count of up to 550," said the minister.
Dr Simon Zwane, Director of Health, elaborating on this matter, explained that the current threshold for CD4 cell count in the country was 350.
This means that an HIV patient is not put on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) if their CD4 count is above this level. Anything below warrants ARVs.
"550 is a new threshold we want to get to depending on how far the MaxART programme goes in its drive towards treatment as prevention.
"We are not there yet, as some research work is still being done. Otherwise, to get there, HIV positive patients may be required to take ARVs regardless of their CD4 cell count. By so doing, the viral load in the body will be suppressed and, therefore, decrease spread," explained Zwane.
Currently, there are around 77 000 people on ARVs, which the minister of Health described as being very good. As more patients will be encouraged to be on ART, we project that number to reaching 90 000 in three years time.
Xaba also mentioned that government spent E180 million per year on ARVs. With more people on ART, this figure was expected to increase.
The minister also emphasised that Swaziland had one of the best ART programmes in the world, and it had contributed in lessening the HIV infection rate.
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