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FC Barcelona funds new early infant diagnosis laboratory in Swaziland

© UNICEF Swaziland /2011/Mamba
Staff wearing FC Barcelona jerseys show Minister of Health Benedict Xaba the new lab equipment funded by the football club at Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland.

By Sibongiseni Mamba

MBABANE, Swaziland, 27 July 2011 – The opening of a modern new laboratory to test blood samples from infants exposed to HIV infection in Swaziland has been hailed as a major milestone in the treatment of children affected by the virus.

The laboratory, which meets all international quality standards, has the capacity to test nearly 100 per cent of blood samples collected from infants across the country. Situated at the Mbabane Government Hospital, Swaziland’s main referral hospital, it is equipped with high-tech ‘polymerase chain reaction’ machines, which allow the Ministry of Health to test blood samples of infants locally.

Previously, these samples were sent to South African laboratories. Not only this was costly for the government, but it also prolonged the waiting period for patients. The new early infant diagnosis equipment reduces the wait for results from 18 to 3 days. It also eliminates the high cost of sending samples to South Africa.

Preventing child deaths

Early infant diagnosis is an important initiative of the Ministry of Health and others working in Swaziland to prevent HIV-related child deaths by providing early care and treatment for vulnerable children.

The blood-testing equipment at Mbabane hospital was purchased through funding from FC Barcelona, an international UNICEF partner. It is fully operated and managed by a team of Swazi laboratory personnel who received training through support from FC Barcelona, also known as Barça.

© UNICEF Swaziland /2011/Mamba
Swazi Minister of Health Benedict Xaba thanks FC Barcelona and UNICEF for early infant diagnosis equipment that will significantly reduce the waiting period for HIV blood-test results.

Swazi Minister of Health Benedict Xaba praised FC Barcelona for the donation at a formal handover of the equipment. He said his ministry would like to frame a Barça replica jersey and hang it inside the Mbabane lab “so that future generations, and the children whose lives would have been saved by this equipment, would recognize the kind work done by the team.”

Then Mr. Xaba waved a Barça shirt and chanted: “Phambili nge Barca phambili! Phambili nga Messi phambili! Phambili nga Iniesta phambili!” (Translation: “Forward Barça, forward! Forward Messi, forward! Forward Iniesta, forward!)

Paediatric AIDS treatment

Dr. Nida Hailu, Chief Executive Officer of the Baylor Clinic, Swaziland’s only paediatric AIDS centre, believes the FC Barcelona-funded equipment will save many young lives.

“Before, our patients would wait a long time for the results to come back from South Africa” he recalled. “By the time the results are back, a child would have been three months old and treatment would have been delayed.”

This created a huge backlog, which saw many patients falling through the cracks because of the long wait, noted Dr. Hailu. “Now, results are back in no time, which enables us to admit those infants who are infected into [anti-retroviral treatment] sooner,” he added.

Global partnership

UNICEF Representative in Swaziland Dr. Jama Gulaid hailed FC Barcelona for the support it gives to Swazi children. This assistance is part of the global FC Barcelona-UNICEF partnership for children, signed in 2006.

Since inception, this partnership has yielded considerable benefits for children in Swaziland, the first country to receive a significant portion of the €1.5 million in funding that FC Barcelona donates annually to UNICEF. Apart from the HIV diagnosis equipment, Swaziland has received funds from Barça for sports equipment in 200 schools and safe water for 25 schools in drought-prone areas.



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