Health ministry sued over review of HIV and malaria tests algorithm

A man undergoes HIV testing. [Stephen Nzioka, Standard]

A vicious court battle over the review of testing sequence of HIV has emerged with the Ministry of Health being accused of failing to involve stakeholders and procuring kits that have lower sensitivity.

Joseph Omwando in his case filed before the High Court claims that the ministry wants to overhaul the current HIV/Aids algorithm under the pretext of following World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations but has failed to follow to the letter the required processes.

In his case filed by lawyer Esther Odumbe, Omwando claims that the ministry is rushing through to review the algorithm for commercial interests and not public interests.

He claims that the Health Ministry is also plotting to reduce the quality of malaria testing kits by lowering the Panel Detection Score (PDS) for the kits to be used in the country from 90 per cent to 80 per cent to accommodate manufacturers whose products are less than 90 per cent.

“The whole review process is unconstitutional due to the fact that the public participation, involvement of key shareholders and sensitisation in the collection of samples was not collected,” claims Omwando.

Kenya’s HIV testing program is currently being conducted using a kit known as Determine HIV as the first-line screening kit.

According to the petitioner, the WHO recommended to its members to introduce a third kit into their national HIV testing algorithms. “This would negate the need to have samples sent to a laboratory and would provide a swift and accurate results on the condition of the person being tested,” he says, adding that the ministry instead went ahead to review the current testing algorithm.

“The defendants (Ministry of Health) opted to change the national HIV testing strategy and algorithm which requires developing a plan and identifying the optimal time for transition while ensuring all the necessary resources are in place.

“This change is being done without much preparedness and intends to introduce inferior third generation tests into the National HIV algorithm.”

According to him, other countries have already moved to fourth-generation tests. He states that what Kenya wants to move to is ‘an old’ technology.

This is a second court case casting doubts on Kenya’s HIV and Aids test results.

Last year, two women sued two government institutions after they were diagnosed and treated for HIV while they were negative.

 

The two women named AWM and EM sued Thika Level Five Hospital and Msambweni County Referral Hospital claiming they were misdiagnosed and treated for a disease they did not have.

According to court documents, on July 20, 2016, EM visited Diani Health Center for a routine antenatal visit and she was tested alongside other expectant mothers.

She says a nurse did the test and the result was that she was HIV positive. The nurse allegedly requested that she bring her spouse and their one-year-old child for testing. Their test results were negative but another staff did them.

She claimed that the nurse who tested her was actually a counsellor by training and who had a two-week training certificate and without known medical laboratory training background.

“The hospital relied on the HIV test result given to me to administer antiviral therapy (ARV) to my one-year-old at the time. The ARV has permanently changed the life of my entire family in all aspects,” she claims.

According to her, being declared positive led to frustration and family fights, adding that Msambweni declined to admit her when she was to give birth on account of the alleged status.

She continued: “A HIV positive tag put on me was a result of a HIV misdiagnosis, had a big toll on my entire family due to suspicion, stigma, mistrust and regular domestic quarrels that made our lives as a family appear worthless.”

She claimed that when it was known that she did not have HIV, the hospital demanded that she returns all the medical records and medicine for destruction. She says this was meant to conceal the evidence.

Meanwhile, EWM said that she went to Thika with her husband of 22 years to get tested for HIV. She argues that the hospital staff took her blood for screening and after 30 minutes, a shocker came that she was positive while her husband was cleared. This was on March 2, 2018.

She narrated that the man gave her an assurance that he would support her only for him to disappear the following morning without a word.

According to her, she got a call 14 days later from the same hospital requiring her to visit the hospital for medication. “She threatened me that in the event that I did not start of ARVs, I would be arrested and charged for being positive and not on medication and may be forced to take my medication from cells,” she claims adding that at that time, she contemplated suicide.

“I tried mixing rat poison with iodine and yoghurt to take.”

On December 10, 2018, she went for a second test and which gave a contrary verdict. Amazed by turn of result, she did another test that confirmed she was negative.

The two also want the court to compel the ministry to review HIV testing algorithm and guidelines.

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