Objective: We monitored a large-scale implementation of the Simple Amplification-Based Assay semi-quantitative viral load test for HIV-1 version I (SAMBA I Viral Load = SAMBA I VL) within Médecins Sans Frontières’ HIV programmes in Malawi and Uganda, to assess its performance and operational feasibility.
Methods: Descriptive analysis of routine programme data between August 2013 and December 2016. The dataset included samples collected for VL monitoring and tested using SAMBA I VL in five HIV clinics in Malawi (four peripheral health centres and one district hospital), and one HIV clinic in a regional referral hospital in Uganda. SAMBA I VL was used for VL testing in patients who had been receiving ART for between 6 months and ten years, to determine whether plasma VL was above or below 1000 copies/mL of HIV-1, reflecting ART failure or efficacy. Randomly selected samples were quantified with commercial VL assays. SAMBA I instruments and test performance, site throughput, and delays in communicating results to clinicians and patients were monitored.
Results: Between August 2013 and December 2016 a total of 60 889 patient samples were analysed with SAMBA I VL. Overall, 0.23% of initial SAMBA I VL results were invalid; this was reduced to 0.04% after repeating the test once. Global test failure, including instrument failure, was 1.34%. Concordance with reference quantitative testing of VL was 2620/2727, 96.0% (1338/1382, 96.8% in Malawi; 1282/1345, 95.3% in Uganda). For Chiradzulu peripheral health centres and Arua Hospital HIV clinic, where testing was performed on-site, same-day results were communicated to clinicians for between 91% and 97% of samples. Same-day clinical review was obtained for 84.7% across the whole set of samples tested.
Conclusions: SAMBA I VL testing is feasible for monitoring cohorts of 1000 to 5000 ART-experienced patients. Same-day results can be used to inform rapid clinical decision-making at rural and remote health facilities, potentially reducing time available for development of resistance and conceivably helping to reduce morbidity and mortality.