From today's This Day newspaper:
Rats on the rampage: Destroy CD4 counter machine at Bulongwa HIV/AIDS clinic, forcing patients to walk all the way to Makete
FINNIGAN WA SIMBEYE
RATS are reported to have damaged a US-make CD4 counter machine used to analyze the progression of the HIV virus in people and determine whether they need anti-retroviral drugs at Bulongwa Lutheran Hospital in Makete District, Iringa Region.
According to the reports, the FacsCount machine has been wrecked since January this year after rats ate parts of the electric supply cables.
As a result of the crisis, all blood samples of people living with HIV and AIDS in the Bulongwa area are now being referred to the Makete District Hospital and Ikonda Roman Catholic Hospital.
Makete District Medical Officer Dr Joshua Kapande told THISDAY that the district hospital currently each week receives between 25 and 30 blood samples from Bulongwa Hospital for HIV/AIDS checks.
"The CD4 counter machine at Bulongwa has been out of service since last January, and I try to assist by sending a motorcycle over there every Wednesday to collect blood samples of patients to do CD4 count here," Dr Kapande told THISDAY in an interview here.
The Dar es Salaam-based Biocare Health Products Limited, sole local agent of Becton Dickinson company which manufactures the FacsCount CD4 counter machines, is understood to have supplied a new machine to the Bulongwa hospital earlier this month, but it has yet to be set up for operation.
"Biocare technicians came here to fix the old machine, but deemed it impossible. So the company supplied a new machine earlier this month although the technicians are yet to fix it up," said Makete District Laboratory Technician, China Mbilinyi.
However, Bulongwa Hospital administrator Edward Masevella had a different story to tell: "We have two brand-new, functioning FacsCount CD4 machines here the problem we have had is not having a qualified laboratory technician to run it."
Masevella said the hospital's last qualified lab technician absconded from work earlier this year but both FacsCount machines, one supplied by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the other by Kenyan-based charity organization Tunajali, are functioning properly.
While the Makete District Hospital is understood to have a functioning FacsCount machine supplied by Biocare Health Products along with the Bulongwa Hospital machine back in 2006, the Ikonda Hospital uses a German-make Cyflow CD4 counter machine.
When THISDAY visited the HIV clinic at Bulongwa last Wednesday, people had not undergone their regular CD4 count this year.
"I was supposed to have my CD4 count examined last April but it wasn't done because they said the machine is broken down," said one male patient with identity card number 1102022000381.
His card indicates that his last CD4 count was done in February 2007, when his tally was 35. He is frail and has protruding cheeks.
A female patient found at the clinic, with card no. 11220013, said her last CD4 count observation was done in September last year, when she tallied 691.
"I am fine with me the CD4 counting isn't a big deal. I just need the medicine," said the patient as she joined a lengthy queue of people living with HIV and AIDS currently on antiretrovirals.
With a population of just over 116,400, Makete District's prevalence rate for HIV/AIDS currently stands at 16 per cent, according to available statistics. This makes it the district most affected by the AIDS scourge throughout the country.