Southern Africa winning the war against HIV/AIDS
Lusaka ‑ Five countries in Southern Africa are among seven countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have reduced new HIV infection in children by at least 50 percent.
According to the latest UNAIDS report, HIV transmission rates in most Sub-Saharan Africa countries, in which coverage of antiretroviral prophylaxis exceeds 70 percent, declined considerably in the years between 2009 and 2012, though at varying rates.
Between 2009 and 2012, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia managed to reduce new HIV transmission in children by at least 50 percent. Ghana and Ethiopia are the other Sub-Saharan countries that have managed to reduce new HIV infections in children by more than 50 percent. Ghana registered the highest decline of 76 percent, while in Southern Africa, South Africa showed a 63 percent decline followed by Namibia at 58 percent.
Through a joint effort, the Global Plan, UNAIDS and the United States Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), aim to reduce by 90 percent the number of children newly infected with HIV and 50 percent the number of AIDS-related maternal deaths by 2015.
However, the pace has been slow in several countries, and the numbers have actually risen in Angola.
New infections among children fell to 210 000 in 2012 in the 21 Global Plan priority countries in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to 340 000 in 2009.
In 2012, 375 000 more pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral treatment than in 2009. As a result, HIV transmission rates have fallen in most of the priority countries and fewer children are being infected with HIV.
Four countries – Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Zambia – have already met their goal of providing antiretroviral treatment to 90 percent of the women who are eligible to prevent HIV mother-to-child transmission. Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are close behind.
More children are receiving antiretroviral therapy than before, but access remains unacceptably low – only 3 in 10 eligible children receive HIV therapy in most countries.
Although Namibia recorded 700 new HIV infections among children in 2012, it recorded 58 percent decrease in the number of new HIV infections among children. In addition, 94 percent of eligible pregnant women are receiving HIV treatment for their own health.
In South Africa, 14 000 cases of new HIV infections among children were recorded in 2012, while 83 percent of eligible pregnant women are receiving HIV treatment.
Botswana is making strides towards curbing HIV infections having recorded 320 new cases of HIV infections among children in 2012, a 52 percent decrease from 2009.
During the same period, Zambia recorded 9 500 new cases of HIV infections among children in 2012 and recorded a 51 percent decrease in the number of new HIV infections among children, and 89 percent of eligible pregnant women are receiving HIV treatment.
Meanwhile, Zambian President Michael Sata raised concern about the continued new cases of infections and has challenged stakeholders to accelerate education and increased funding to the health sector to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the Southern African state.
Although Zambia is doing well on the economic front and in the fight against HIV/AIDS, a lot more can be achieved once poverty and unemployment are reduced, President Sata said recently.
President Sata convened the stakeholders meeting to review findings of the UNAIDS’ 2013 Progress Report on new HIV infections among children in Africa.
Organisations such as UNAIDS, National AIDS Council Churches, Health Association of Zambia [CHAZ] and the National AIDS Council [NAC] and the Organisation of African First Ladies [OAFLA] are among others that attended the meeting.
UNAIDS noted in the report that Zambia will continue to make progress towards eliminating new HIV infections among children if it maintains its current high coverage level of antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women living with HIV, while also addressing HIV transmission through breastfeeding.
However, the number of eligible children receiving HIV treatment needs to be increased, the UN agency stated.
Zambia has committed to roll out lifelong antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women living with HIV, which will accelerate the country’s progress towards the goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
President Sata applauded the efforts being made by various stakeholders and that dissemination of information and infrastructure development were critical in the fight against HIV and AIDS especially in rural areas.
Statistics from the National AIDS Council show that 16 percent of the adult population in Zambia who are aged between 15 and 45 years are living with the HIV virus with one million living with HIV countrywide.
Woman are said to be vulnerable to the disease than men and. The infection rates among young women aged 15 to 24 years is four times higher than young men in the same age group, according to the country’s national AIDS prevention body.
However, despite the alarming levels of HIV infection in Zambia, there has been steady progress in the delivery of comprehensive HIV/AIDS care.
Former minister of health Brian Chituwo recently attributed the improvements to PEPFAR. Through PEPFAR, Chituwo said, support health care workers have been trained to provide counselling and testing services and facilities have also been upgraded to provide space for counselling and testing services. Zambia has since set up programmes to train child counsellors and paediatric anti-retroviral therapy (ART) providers. It has also implemented a policy on early diagnosis of HIV in children less than 18 months.
Chituwo attributes low uptake of children on ART to lack of facilities for early diagnosis of HIV in children and inadequate ART paediatric providers and child counsellors.
Miriam Banda, the chairperson of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, has called on national leaders in Zambia to disclose their HIV status in order to fight stigma.
Banda, who is living with the virus, says stigma has continued to be a barrier in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The alarming rate of HIV/AIDS infections in the country has raised eyebrows among stakeholders with government officials in Eastern Province becoming increasingly concerned that high poverty levels in rural areas have worsened the HIV/AIDS situation in the areas.
The Eastern Province permanent secretary, Kelvin Kamuwanga, says poverty has made most people, particularly women more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Admason Chongwe, regional HIV/AIDS Task Force Coordination Advisor, says the government is saddened that infected people, in most cases, failed to access the medical facilities due to long distances to health centres and urges stakeholders to work in collaboration to effectively combat the scourge.
“People’s lives will only change, especially on stigma if drama groups are used to sensitise them. That is the only way to reduce the number of infections through increased awareness,” he says.