PloS one 2017 09 0612(9) e0183656 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0183656
Cryptococcal meningitis is one of the leading causes of death among people with HIV in Africa, primarily due to delayed presentation, poor availability and high cost of treatment. Routine cryptococcal antigen (CrAg) screening of patients with a CD4 count less than 100 cells/mm3, followed by pre-emptive therapy if positive, might reduce mortality in high prevalence settings. Using the cryptococcal antigen (CrAg) lateral flow assay (LFA), screening is possible at the point of care (POC). However, critical shortages of health staff may limit adoption. This study investigates the feasibility of lay counsellors conducting CrAg LFA screening in rural primary care clinics in Lesotho.
From May 2014 to June 2015, individuals who tested positive for HIV were tested for CD4 count and those with CD4 <100 cells/mm3 were screened with CrAg LFA. All tests were performed by lay counsellors. CrAg-positive asymptomatic patients received fluconazole, while symptomatic patients were referred to hospital. Lay counsellors were trained and supervised by a laboratory technician and counsellor activity supervisor. Additionally, nurses and doctors were trained on CrAg screening and appropriate treatment. RESULTS
During the study period, 1,388 people were newly diagnosed with HIV, of whom 129 (9%) presented with a CD4 count <100 cells/mm3. Of these, 128 (99%) were screened with CrAg LFA and 14/128 (11%) tested positive. Twelve of the 14 (86%) were asymptomatic, and received outpatient fluconazole. All commenced ART with a median time to initiation of 15.5 days [IQR: 14-22]. Of the asymptomatic patients, nine (75%) remained asymptomatic after a median time of 5 months [IQR; 3-6] of follow up. One (8%) became co-infected with tuberculosis and died and two were transferred out. The two patients with symptomatic cryptococcal meningitis (CM) were referred to hospital, where they later died. CONCLUSIONS
CrAg LFA screening by lay counsellors followed by pre-emptive fluconazole treatment for asymptomatic cases, or referral to hospital for symptomatic cases, proved feasible. However, regular follow-up to ensure proper management of cryptococcal disease was needed. These early results support the wider use of CrAg LFA screening in remote primary care settings where upper cadres of healthcare staff may be in short supply.