A mobile health unit may be useful to follow up adult and pediatric patients on antiretroviral treatment and living in remote areas devoid of laboratory facilities. The study evaluated the use of the simplified, robust, single-plateform, volumetric, pan-leucogating Auto40 flow cytometer (Apogee Flow Systems Ltd, Hemel Hempstead, UK) for CD4 T cell numeration in a mobile unit, compared against a reference flow cytometry method.
The therapeutic mobile unit of the Laboratoire National de Santé Hygiène Mobile, Yaoundé, Cameroon, was equipped with the Auto40. A FACSCalibur flow cytometer (Becton Dickinson Immuno-cytometry System, San Jose, CA, USA) was used as reference method. EDTA-blood samples from volunteers were first subjected to CD4 T cell count in the mobile unit, and an aliquot was sent within 4 hours to Centre International de Référence Chantal Biya, Yaoundé, for FACSCalibur assay.
Two HIV screening campaigns with the mobile unit were organised in December 2009 and January 2010. The campaign in the suburb of Yaoundé which was 20 km from the reference laboratory included 188 volunteers comprising 93 children less than 5 years old. The campaign in Ambang Bikok (53 km far from Yaoundé) included 69 adult volunteers. In Yaoundé suburb, mean ± standard deviation (SD) CD4 T cell count was 996 ± 874 cells/μl by Auto40, and 989 ± 883 cells/μl by FACSCalibur; in Ambang Bikok, mean ± SD CD4 T cell count was 1041 ± 317 cells/μl by Auto40, and 1032 ± 294 cells/μl by FACSCalibur. Results by Auto40 and FACSCalibur were highly correlated in Yaoundé (r2 = 0.982) as in Ambang Bikok (r2 = 0.921). Bland-Altman analysis showed a close agreement between Auto40 and FACSCalibur results expressed in absolute count as in percentage in Yaoundé and Ambang Bikok. When pooling the 257 CD4 T cell count measurements, the Auto40 yielded a mean difference of +7.6 CD4 T cells/μl higher than by reference flow cytometry; and the sensitivity and specificity of Auto40 in enumerating absolute CD4 T cell counts of less than 200 cells/μl were 87% and 99%, respectively, and in enumerating absolute CD4 T cell counts of less than 350 cells/μl were 87% and 98%, respectively. The intrarun and interun precisions of the Auto40 assay assessed in the mobile unit were 5.5% and 7.9%, respectively.
The Auto40 flow cytometer installed in a therapeutic mobile unit and operated far from its reference laboratory gave a perfect correlation with the reference method, and could be useful in carrying out immunological monitoring of HIV-infected patients living in areas without access to laboratory facilities.