UN hails Zim over Aids conference

> Sharon Kavhu

The United Nations (UN) has applauded Zimbabwe for successfully hosting the 18th International Conference on Aids and Sexually transmitted infections in Africa (ICASA), and tremendous efforts in combating HIV compared to many other African countries.

In a statement made by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident coordinator Bishow Parajuli to this publication, the non-governmental has described the hosting of ICASA in Zimbabwe as significant.

“The UN is pleased to be represented in this event that provides a golden opportunity to showcase Zimbabwe’s robust national response to challenges posed by HIV, and the value of effective international partnerships and co-operation that are the hallmark of the country’s shining example,” stated Parajuli.

“We urge the international community to stay on the course in supporting Zimbabwe to consolidate the phenomenal gains made in the last decade and achieve its goals under the National HIV and Aids Strategic Plan and other priorities,” he added.

The UNDP commended Government for outstanding leadership in responding to HIV crisis and saving thousands of lives through effective and efficient delivery of health services to the needy.

“Government together with the UN’s support as well as other development partners such as the Global Fund, PEPFAR and DFID, Zimbabwe has made major progress in combating HIV,” it said.

“The number of people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) rose from 363,261 in 2010 to 508,690 in 2012 and 854,181 by September 2015.

“According to 2013 HIV estimates, deaths averted by the ART programme rose from 624 in 2004 to 36,315 in 2009. In 2013, there were at least 45,422 deaths which were averted.”

Parajuli said Zimbabwe has made substantial progresses under the Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission(PMTCT) programme.

Ministry of Health and Child Care’s 2014 report shows that the percentage of pregnant women living with HIV in Zimbabwe and on ART has increased from 85.4 percent in 2010 to 92 percent in 2012.  However, the same report shows that last year, the percentage slightly decreased to 89 percent.

However, the head of UNAIDS, Zimbabwe Michael Bartos said the hosting of ICASA in Africa is key for reviewing progress made in the continent against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“ICASA comes at the crucial time for Africa to review the progress made against the MDGs and commit to Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its target of ending the epidemic of Aids,” stated Bartos.

“Zimbabwe has made outstanding progress in scaling up ART for all its citizens and this was on show at the conference as well as progress in elimination of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV. The Government’s commitment to leaving no one behind will be vital in ensuring that services reach all those key populations most affected by Aids in Zimbabwe.”

As much as Zimbabwe has been making tremendous progress in HIV intervention, United Nations’ Children’s Funds (UNICEF) representative Reza Hossaini said there are still some gaps that need special interventions.

“It is absolutely critical that as we move forward, we take a hard and honest look at why key segments of the population are not being reached by the current HIV and Aids response in Zimbabwe,” said Hossaini.

“By September this year, one-third of adolescents aged between 15 to 19 years living with HIV were not on anti-retroviral treatment, and this figure could be higher if more were tested.”

He added: “Even more troubling, new HIV infections among adolescents have not declined as fast as among adults, and 57 percent of children were not on treatment.”

He said the new frontier in ending Aids by 2013 is by preventing new infections among adolescents and broadening access to treatment for those with HIV.

United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), country representative Cheikh Tidiane Cisse emphasised the need for more focus on HIV prevention especially among young people, and on family planning for women living with HIV, saying this would lead to fewer HIV-positive infants.

“HIV control and management continues to be a central plank of global strategies to improve women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health,” he said, adding “together we can invest more in integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health services.”

ICASA is a major international Aids conference which took place in Zimbabwe from November 29 to December 4.  It was officially opened by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The 17th ICASA conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa, from December 7 to 11 in 2013.

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