A healthcare worker takes a dried blood spot sample from 6 week old baby in Malawi to be transported to a lab for testing. © UNICEF/UN013396/Khonje
Unfortunately, little Pemphero’s results were not delivered as promised, and Melina is left waiting. While the healthcare assistant explains why to Melina, her eyes seem lost, as if looking for an absent solution. In 2011, she was diagnosed with HIV and since then has been taking antiretroviral drugs. She knows how vital the medicines are for someone who carries the virus.
Melina’s predicament is sadly common in Malawi. At present, infants get tested for HIV through dried blood samples that are taken at the community health clinic, then batched together and driven to one of the eight laboratories in Lilongwe that are equipped to analyse them.
In 2014, nearly 40,000 children in Malawi were born to HIV positive mothers. Quality care of these children depends on early diagnosis, made difficult by costly and slow transport times. The process isn’t moving fast enough and children are paying for it with their lives.
High-tech solutions like drones could result in faster access to treatment, saving the lives of babies like Pemphero. HIV is still a major threat for children in Malawi, but thanks to innovative technology, aiming for an AIDs-free generation is becoming much more realistic.