HIV takes toll on Zambia

So far the Zambian government has managed to put 50 000 patients on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) against its targeted estimate of 100 000 patients by the end of last year. The AIDS epidemic is estimated to have resulted in over 1 million orphans. It has also been estimated that AIDS morbidity and mortality result in about 50 percent of general hospital admissions, and over 70 percent of medical hospital admissions. Health Minister Sylvia Masebo confirms that like any other country in the region, the nation is greatly affected by the scourge and that of the 200 000 in need of ARVs only 50 000 have been put on the drugs. Speaking on Wednesday at the simultaneous launch of the African Union’s call upon member states to intensify HIV prevention efforts and to declare 2006 as the “Year for Acceleration of HIV Prevention”, Masebo said her government was making progress in bringing the disease under control despite various constraints. A satellite link of the launch was made between the main event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and linked country events in Dakar, Senegal, Pretoria (South Africa) and in Khartoum, Sudan. During the Lusaka launch, Masebo said her government would continue putting more people on the ARVs. “We now have more than 50 000 eligible People Living with AIDS on treatment by the end of 2005. Considering the various limitations, this is an acceptable achievement,” she said. Zambia is one of the Sub-Saharan African countries worst affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. According to Masebo, the country’s 2004 Sentinel Surveillance survey indicates that the overall HIV prevalence level of all pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 years from the 23 sentinel sites tracked in 2004 was 18.7 percent. At the launch of the programme, which was also being done in a number of other countries, Masebo said Africa has been hardest hit although in other regions of the world, especially in South East Asia and Eastern Europe, the epidemic continues to escalate at unprecedented rates. “For the past two decades, HIV and AIDS has spread across all continents, killing millions of adults and children, disrupting family life and entrenching poverty, orphaning millions of children, weakening the workforce and threatening the social and economic fabric of communities and nations,” said Masebo. She said devastating human and developmental impacts of the AIDS pandemic remained one of the most formidable challenges impeding the realisation of Zambia’s development aspirations. “The country is deeply affected by HIV and AIDS socially and economically, and will continue to be so for many years to come,” she lamented. In terms of the human face of the crisis, from the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey for 2002, it is estimated that one in six Zambians aged between 15 and 49 years are infected with HIV, while four times more girls aged 15-24 years are infected than their male counterparts, a situation that has been described as pointing to the feminisation of the pandemic. Research says women and girls thus constitute a major vulnerable group. Other vulnerable groups include commercial sex workers, truck drivers, men-in-uniform, prison inmates, migrant workers, fishmongers and fishermen. Zambia launched its antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme in 2003. Currently the country has an HIV prevalence rate of 16 percent of people aged between 15-49 years. According to the National Aids Council (NAC), other interventions such as the ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condomise) prevention programme have been put in place. Due to such programmes, the age of sex debut has increased to 18.5 years and the percentage of young people 15-24 years reporting sexual relations with a non-regular partner has decreased to 29 percent for males and 16 percent for females. “On the other hand, vulnerability to HIV among youths remains high as only 34 percent of young people can correctly identify ways of preventing sexual transmission of HIV and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission and condom utilisation for this group with a non-cohabiting partner is low, at 38.4 percent for males and 26.1 percent for females,” says NAC director general Dr Ben Chirwa. He says access to voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programmes have continued to increase with 400 and 270 sites respectively offering these services. However, in Zambia only 25 percent of HIV positive mothers are receiving a complete course of ARV. In the continued effort to control HIV transmission 100 percent of transfused blood units are routinely screened for HIV. In order to jointly fight the spread of HIV and AIDS in August 2005 African Ministers of Health adopted a resolution calling upon member states to intensify HIV prevention efforts and to declare 2006 as the “Year for Acceleration of HIV Prevention”. According to UNAIDS, the resolution builds on commitments by heads of state, the United Nations and international partners to the Abuja Declaration, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS Declaration, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Maputo Declaration as well as the Declaration and Road Map towards Universal Access adopted by Ministers of Health in Gaborone, Botswana, in 2001. It is estimated that every year more than 2 million people lose their lives to HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 3 million new infections occur in the African Region and half of the newly infected people in the region are young people aged 15 to 24 years. “This calls for special measures and emergency actions to stop the spread of HIV infection on the continent,” observes UNAIDS.

April 2006
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