The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos (also known as Laos PDR) is estimated at 13,600 and the number of people in need of antiretroviral therapy at 8,000. Today, around 3,200 HIV infected individuals receive treatment in seven centres throughout the country. Until recently, antiretroviral treated patients were followed-up only on the basis of clinical and immunological criteria.
In 2009 the Centre d’Infectiologie Christophe Mérieux in Laos PDR (CICML) signed a collaboration agreement with the national Centre of HIV/AIDS/STI (CHAS) for the implementation of HIV viral load testing (VLT) in the country, leading to the technological transfer of the ANRS generic assay (HIV Generic charge virale, Biocentric, Bandol, France). The introduction of HIV VLT has been accompanied through national HIV workshops every 6 months. From June 2009 to December 2011, HIV viral load has been measured in 1,782 antiretoviral-treated patients. Of these, 97% were on reverse-transcriptase inhibitor -based 1st line regimen.
HIV viral load was undetectable (<250 copies/ml) for 1,491 out of 1,782 (84%) antiretroviral-treated patients. Four months after adherence strengthening, HIV viral load became undetectable for 179/247 patients (72.5%) while 68/247 patients (27.5%) remained viremic (median viral load: 4.1 Log10).
This report demonstrates the feasibility of setting up an affordable HIV viral load generic test at a national level in Laos PDR. Interestingly, only 16% of antiretroviral-treated patients presented with detectable VL at their first viral load measurement. Importantly, almost two thirds of them have controlled their viral load after strengthening their adherence to treatment.