UNICEF

POC lessons learned

This document was developed to compile knowledge, insights and recommendations from UNICEF focal points in country offices implementing a project aimed at introducing, scaling up, and integrating point-of-care (POC) diagnostics into national health systems. The project was implemented by UNICEF, CHAI and ASLM with funding from Unitaid in 10 sub-Saharan African countries between 2016-2020. As the project was winding down, we thought it was important to document the lessons learned from those with direct, hands-on experience in project implementation to offer guidance to other countries interested in adopting POC technologies to increase access to diagnostics.

Innovative POC diagnostics can be a game changer in health systems as it enables testing outside the laboratory and closer to patients, can be used for the diagnosis of multiple diseases, addresses key limitations of conventional laboratory networks, and significantly increases access to diagnostic testing in a decentralized fashion. Decentralization of testing also carries an additional benefit as it strengthens elements of the health system around diagnostics (e.g., supply chain management, quality management, connectivity and data management, waste management) that have a broader impact on the health system. The multi-disease testing capacity of POC devices also contributes to pandemic preparedness and response, as has been shown by its use in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014-2016) as well as its widespread use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of POC diagnostic technologies cannot be overstated. This is particularly important in communities in low-resource settings with limited access to diagnostics as well as patients whose clinical management depends upon quick diagnostic test results – such as children infected with HIV. Without treatment, up to 50 per cent of children living with HIV die by their second birthday, with a peak mortality between two and three months of age. Thus, HIV-exposed infants need to be diagnosed before two months of age using molecular diagnostic methods until recently only available in conventional laboratories. However, such conventional laboratory systems carry inherent limitations that restrict their ability to provide timely results in various settings, particularly low-resource settings. It was this urgent need to diagnose HIV-positive infants and initiate them on treatment as soon as possible that motivated this project. POC diagnostics introduction and scale up allowed faster diagnosis, which in turn increased the number of HIV-infected children diagnosed and initiated on treatment within two months of age.

 

cover of poc lessons learned

Accelerating Access to Innovative Point-of-Care HIV Diagnostics

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mother holding infant, smiling.

 

Although the project was focused on increasing access to early infant diagnosis of HIV through POC testing, it also demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of POC diagnostics and the benefits of multi-disease testing by integrating HIV viral load and TB testing on the same POC diagnostic platforms. In spite of the focus on HIV, the lessons reported here are broadly relevant for other disease programmes. These lessons are organized in seven main topics: (1) Leadership commitment and support; (2) Laboratories and the supply chain; (3) Engagement with civil society organizations(CSOs); (4) Diagnostics network optimization (DNO); (5) Innovative approaches; (6) Transition to national governments and other long-term funding partners; and (7) Grant design and management. These lessons build upon the 'Key Considerations for Introducing New HIV Point-of-Care Diagnostic Technologies in National Health Systems' published in 2017, and 'Lessons Learned from Integrating Point-of-Care testing Technologies for Early Infant Diagnosis of HIV into National Diagnostic Networks' published by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in 2019. Together, these resources offer a comprehensive perspective on the strategies, challenges, and lessons learned in the course of integrating POC diagnostics into national health systems that countries should consider when introducing and/or scaling up POC diagnostics.

Understanding and Improving Viral Load Suppression in Children with HIV In Eastern and Southern Africa

In 2019 it was estimated that 1.2 million children (0-14) were living with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa, yet more than a half million of these children (504,000) were not receiving lifesaving treatment. Children with HIV need to achieve viral load suppression if they are to lead long and healthy lives. Population-based surveys in Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe found that children on treatment fare worse in achieving viral load suppression compared to adults; 42 per cent vs 67 per cent, 39 per cent vs 84 per cent and 47 per cent vs 86 per cent respectively. Ending AIDS will not be possible without accelerating progress for children.

UNICEF, in collaboration with governments and partners, supported a mixed method study that included literature review, assessment of laboratory data in Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe and interviews with health workers and caregivers in Malawi to find out what is behind these low rates. The study found that one out of every three children who had a viral load test had not achieved viral load suppression. Support networks for caregivers and children improved adherence and made a difference towards outcome. The full report describes the methodology, key findings, challenges and proposes concrete recommendations to improve treatment outcomes for children with HIV. The accompanying advocacy brief summarizes the key findings and provides action-oriented next steps

International Technical and Programmatic Guidance on Out-of-School Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with collaborating partners from the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Secretariat of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), have developed this guidance to build upon and complement the UN International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE). It offers more in-depth programmatic guidance on how to develop CSE programmes that are appropriate and safe for different groups of children and young people, especially those who are unlikely to be addressed in CSE programmes for children and young people generally.

Available in English and Spanish.

Nurturing care for children affected by HIV

In the early years, we lay down critical elements for health, well-being and productivity, which last throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Failure to meet a child’s needs during this critical period limits the child’s ability to achieve their full developmental potential and threatens the future of human capital and society in general. This is particularly so for children affected by HIV who experience several interrelated factors that may hinder the achievement of a child’s full developmental potential.

This brief from UNICEF and WHO describes the specific nurturing care components for children affected by HIV as well as facility-level and community-level actions for early childhood development.

HIV Pediatrics 2020 Workshop Report

The International Workshop on HIV & Pediatrics 2020 took place virtually on 16-17 November. It provided a global update on paediatric HIV and explored pertinent issues through dedicated plenary and oral abstract sessions on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, paediatric treatment and care, and adolescents and HIV. It also included sessions on COVID-19 in children.

UNICEF and Virology Education have developed a workshop report that summarises highlights and learnings from each session.

Presentations and webcasts (provided speaker's consent) are also publicly available and can be accessed here.

2020 World AIDS Day Report

Reimagining a resilient HIV response for children, adolescents and pregnant women living with HIV

UNICEF's 2020 World AIDS Day report presents key global data and an overview of the HIV epidemic among children and adolescents, focusing on UNICEF's contribution to HIV prevention, treatment and care services in the global HIV response. The report also discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UNICEF's results and achievements. Finally, the report concludes with a proposed way forward that highlights fighting stigma, which has been a persistent and debilitating challenge to people living with and vulnerable to HIV over the past four decades.

Programming for Adolescents and Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa: UNICEF-GFATM partnership

In partnership with the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNICEF has supported the governments of Botswana and Lesotho to implement targeted programmes for adolescent girls and young women. In Lesotho, a national multi-sectoral referral framework is strengthening community-facility linkages and is catalyzing increased access to HIV/SRH services by guiding adolescent and young people to appropriate services and care. In Botswana, a radio drama series together with peer education components is tackling tough issues adolescents are facing in love, life and relationships. Documentation of both experiences are available for download.

UNICEF's Approach to Mental Health during COVID-19 in East Asia and the Pacific

Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is a priority area for the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO). As a cross cutting issue for health/HIV, child protection, early childhood development and education, adolescent development and participation, gender, and disability, an emphasis has been placed on systems strengthening and a longer-term investment in MHPSS to ensure availability, quality and access to a multi-tiered system to meet the needs of children and adolescents, as well as parents and caregivers. This brief presents a snapshot of the multisectoral and adaptive approaches of UNICEF across East Asia and the Pacific to MHPSS during the COVID-19 response, that were undertaken in collaboration with government, civil society, development partners and young people’s networks.

Addressing the needs of adolescent and young mothers affected by HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa

Adolescent and young mothers are a priority population for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, including those who are affected by HIV. In this region, one in four women aged 20-24 years gives birth before the age of 18 years and 30 per cent of all new HIV infections occur among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years. Studies increasingly show poorer maternal, child and HIV outcomes for this age group as compared to older women. Together with governments and partners, UNICEF has been working to promote differentiated, evidence-based approaches to meet the complex needs of adolescent and young mothers in several countries across the region. This newly released report describes these efforts in nine countries, highlighting the results achieved and the learning. Key insights include the importance of responsive service delivery and social support as well as working across sectors. Also offered are ways in which policy makers, researchers, programme managers and implementers can strengthen HIV and health services for adolescent and young mothers and their children.