Portable cell-analysis technology improving treatment of HIV+ patients in rural Africa

Dec. 1, 2010

User-friendly, bench-top flow cytometers, paired with all-in-one cell-analysis kits, are enabling clinicians and laboratory staff to leverage the power of flow cytometry for patients, regardless of skill level or access to a core facility. In addition, these systems accommodate smaller sample volumes, generate less waste, have lower operating costs, and are easier to set up and run than traditional flow cytometers.

Even with the availability of bench-top technology however, access to the equipment remains a challenge for clinicians and patients in rural locations. To help address this need in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, a bench-top flow-cytometry system was recently donated to Nkambe District Hospital. This hospital serves several hundred thousand residents, many of whom survive on subsistence farming. Before the arrival of the system, the majority of CD4+ counters in this region of the country were located in the area’s main city of Bamenda. Transporting blood samples from rural towns to Bamenda — a full day’s trip on unpaved roads — proved to be too much of an obstacle. In the absence of quantitative CD4+ test results, doctors had to prescribe treatment without this critical information and rely on patient observation to monitor efficacy.

“Prior to the bench-top flow-cytometry system being placed at the hospital in Nkambe, CD4+ counts were ordered sparingly and when they were, it took weeks for patients in geographically isolated places to receive results from Bamenda. It was not uncommon for patients to worsen or die while waiting for results,” according to Tony Ndifor, PhD, toxicology director at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development and a former Cameroon resident who facilitated the donation.

Ndifor believes that local access to the flow-cytometry system will lead to greater medication compliance in Cameroon as people living with HIV/AIDS will have a tangible report of how their treatment is working. As for the bigger picture, he anticipates the instrument will help local epidemiologists monitor treatment and control outcomes in the region. The bench-top flow-cytometry system — donated through the Foundation for Orphaned, Abandoned and Disabled African Children — is well-suited for use in remote settings because of its portability, robustness, and ease of use. The Cameroon Women’s Association in Southern California was instrumental in funding transportation of the instrument to its final destination in Cameroon, supplying test kits for the counter, training the staff, and organizing a community health fair to coincide with the deployment of the counter.

Jim Mulry, clinical development manager at EMD Millipore, and Jason Whalley, market manager for flow cytometry at EMD Millipore described the company’s guava AutoCD4+ system which supports people living with HIV/AIDS in Cameroon. Online:

To view the arrival of this equipment at the Nkambe District Hospital, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb_Ah2Bm70I.


  1. http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/cameroon_statistics.html#66. Accessed November 1, 2010.