A newly developed mobile diagnosis unit will be unveiled at the forthcoming International AIDS Conference in Barcelona. The new mobile laboratory will reduce the current high costs of treatment therapy from around USD 40 per patient test to below USD 2. The most remarkable aspect of this new concept is that blood-cell diagnosis, which is absolutely vital for effective therapy to halt the virus, is now affordable without impairing the quality and accuracy of the test results. The mobile mini-laboratory will meet the particular demands of developing countries, and medical staff will be able to organize and provide effective treatment for AIDS sufferers in remote regions.

The new mobile flow-through zytometry laboratory was developed on the initiative of the non-profit-making Fondation J.B. in Geneva, part of the Westfaelische Wilhelms-Universitaet in Muenster, together with the two biotechnology companies Partec and CyTecs. The laboratory, which is built into a cross-country vehicle, will be unveiled to the public at the XIV International AIDS Conference during the second week of July this year. The newly developed flow-through zytometer forms an essential part of the mobile laboratory, which can operate far away from medical centres owing to its maintenance-free and robust construction. The equipment enables subgroups of white blood corpuscles to be differentiated and counted. Using this blood test as part of the therapy, doctors will be able to determine the so-called CD4+ T cells, the number of which is an indicator of the immune-defence level.

Hitherto, the number of sufferers who have had their immune-defence level measured has been limited due to high costs. Conventional flow-through zytometers are too costly and, as a result, tests to determine the number of cells are too expensive. To operate such equipment, large central laboratories with the corresponding infrastructure are required; these are not usually available in remote regions in developing countries. According to the latest figures, hardly more than 1 per cent of AIDS victims can currently receive treatment in Africa, although anti-retroviral chemotherapy has proved successful and is available free of charge in many places.

Initiated and financed by the Fondation J.B., the first mobile CD4 laboratory will be introduced into Burkina Faso in West Africa. The French Red Cross will be sponsoring this project.