Increased provision of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa has led to a growing number of patients with therapy failure and acquired drug-resistant HIV, driving the demand for costlier further lines of antiretroviral therapy. In conjunction with accelerated access to viral load monitoring, feasible and affordable technologies to detect drug-resistant HIV could help maximize the durability and rational use of available drug regimens. Potential low-cost technologies include in-house Sanger and next-generation sequencing in centralized laboratories, and point mutation assays and genotype-free systems that predict response to antiretroviral therapy at point-of-care. Strengthening of centralized high-throughput laboratories, including efficient systems for sample referral and results delivery, will increase economies-of-scale while reducing costs.
Access barriers can be mitigated by standardization of in-house assays into commercial kits, use of polyvalent instruments, and adopting price-reducing strategies. A stepwise rollout approach should improve feasibility, prioritizing WHO-recommended population-based surveillance and management of complex patient categories, such as patients failing protease inhibitor-based antiretroviral therapy. Implementation research, adaptations of existing WHO guidance, and political commitment will be key to support the appropriate investments and policy changes. In this Personal View, we discuss the potential role of HIV drug resistance testing for population-based surveillance and individual patient management in sub-Saharan Africa. We review the strengths and challenges of promising low-cost technologies and how they can be implemented.