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Charles Kiyaga: Man Behind Early HIV Diagnosis in Children

Forty-six-year-old Kiyaga has been hailed for his ground-breaking research that saw Uganda introduce Early Infant Diagnosis EID for children known to have been exposed to HIV.
Dr. CHarles Kiyaga at his office located at Uganda National Health Laboratory Services.

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Laboratory services have been described as the gateway to quality public health care but those behind the laboratories hardly get into the limelight.

In communities, they may pass unnoticed. One of such person is Charles Kiyaga, a biomedical scientist with Uganda National Health Laboratory Services.

The 46-year-old scientist has been hailed for his ground-breaking research that saw Uganda introduce Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) for children known to have been exposed to HIV.

Kiyaga in an interview says a Scientist at the laboratory can only break into the limelight when she or he innovates.

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For one to excel in what Dr Kiyaga does, they to dedicate much time in finding something new to move the science of today to another level.

Kiyaga is hesitant to mention each of the innovations or research that has turned around health care services but his work has been recognised internationally. Perhaps the most recognised is his testing of babies of HIV/AIDS using molecular biology. 

According to United Nations Children's Fund, every minute and half around the globe, a child is born with HIV.

United Nations Joint programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that without diagnosis and treatment, one third of HIV-infected infants will die before one year, and almost half of infected infants will die during their second year of life.

With advances in molecular testing, infants can be tested and treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Dr. Kiyaga pioneered the establishment of Uganda Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) programme in 2007 to test HIV exposed infants. The programme has tested more than 350,000 babies and had them initiated on treatment.

According to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), infants known to have been exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) should undergo a test for infection at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

Antiretroviral therapy should be initiated upon diagnosis of HIV infection in children aged less than 24 months. However, implementing programmes for such early infant diagnosis and treatment had proved challenging until Dr. Kiyaga found a solution at Central Public Health Laboratories.

While he had found a solution to testing infants, Kiyaga and his team found that they were not collecting samples from all over the country because of logistical problems.

In 2011, they consolidated and opened one centralised EID lab. Kiyaga also implemented a sample transport system that directed all samples to the central lab through a network of hubs.

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Laboratory turnaround time was reduced from 30 days to only two days, and overhead cost per test was reduced from over seventy thousand shillings to about eighteen thousand shillings per test saving the country about 14.7 billion shillings. 

UNICEF and the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) have recognised Kiyaga's innovations. His Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) together with the hub transport models have  been adopted to for early diagnosis of sickle cell anaemia in Uganda.

Uganda is now leading in Africa among countries initiating response for sickle cell in babies. He has written several research papers on  managing Sickle Cell Disease in infants.

Who is Charles Kiyaga? Charles Kiyaga was born from Kyabakuza Bugerere in Mukono, now part of Kayunga district. He went to St Kizito Warubila Primary School. He studied at Lubiri  Secondary School for his O-Level and later joined Ndejje SS for A-Level. 

He got a government sponsorship for a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Lab Technology at Makerere University. He also holds another Bachelor's Degree in Health System Approach to HIV Care and Management obtained from University of Manchester in the UK. He also holds a Master's degree in Biomedical Science and Management of Makerere University.

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