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SMS Printers Enter Panama
Panama is piloting the printers in two regions: Chiriqui (at Obaldía Hospital in the town of David) and Kuna Yala (on the island of Aligandí). The HIV program in both regions serves large indigenous populations which travel far distances to access medical services.
Results for almost all HIV-related reference tests are being expedited through the system: DNA-PCR, CD4, Viral Load and (starting soon) ELISA confirmatory tests. In the near future, we are also looking at the option to include results for Dengue testing, a priority concern in the region (tested in a different section of the same National Reference Laboratory). Though located in a big city, the regional HIV program for Chiriqui has faced logistical challenges and is located in the highlands, on the opposite side of the country from the capital.
Kuna Yala is a region composed of thousands of close islands and challenged by one of the highest HIV prevalence in Panama. The only mode of transportation is by boat or canoe and that is how the HIV coordinator travels from island to island to attend to patients (often traveling 8 hours to the farther islands). Previously, due to prolonged turnaround time for results, the doctors were losing faith in the lab services and sometimes stopped sending samples. Results were often not back before they set out for the boat tours. When we established the SMS pilot, the first results that arrived that day were ones that the reference lab believed had already been delivered a long time before, but had actually been lost somewhere along the way and had never arrived. Now Kuna Yala will benefit from direct transmission of results, hopefully avoiding the problem from recurring in the future and helping to close the information circuit in their sample transport program. In fact, the medical staff were really excited by the expedited delivery of their lab tests and immediately began calling the other doctors to act upon the information, as soon as the first results printed out.
This makes Panama the fourth country to begin using the SMS printers, joining Ethiopia, Kenya and Cameroon.