Antiretroviral drugs are perhaps some of the strongest drugs given to patients, so it was almost unheard of that these drugs would ever be administered without routine laboratory tests monitoring side effects as well as the individual's immune system.  Now, recent studies indicate that these costly lab tests, which add $900 to one's treatment over 5 years, are cost-ineffective at best and potentially superfluous in resource poor settings.

Scientists from Zimbabwe, Uganda and Britain followed 3,316 patients for six years in a clinical trial called Development of ART in Africa (DART). The study results released today indicate that 5-year survival rates were very similar between those patients who received routine laboratory tests compared to those who did not.

The researchers suggest that limited funding may be more appropriately used to widen the access of ARV drugs to those not receiving them.

Ugandan doctor Dr Peter Mugyenyi told the BBC that, of the six million people in Africa who required ARVs, only 2.2 million were receiving them.

Researchers concluded that the money diverted away from routine lab testing could medicate an additional 600,000 individuals requiring these drugs, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives.