-First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa says the HIV prevalence in Zambia had declined among 20 to 24-year- old pregnant women in urban areas where it dropped from 30 percent in 1994 to 24 percent in 2004 with only 14 percent of the estimated 460,000 pregnant women tested for HIV.
Mrs Mwanawasa who participated in a two-day United Nations (UN) High-level meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN Headquarters in New York which closed on Wednesday, said in 2007, 5 percent of the estimated women received an HIV test adding that 47 of the 75 850 pregnant women estimated to be living with HIV received ARVs to prevent transmission to their children, a substantial increase compared with only 18 percent in 2004.
This is contained in a Statement released to ZANIS in Lusaka today by First Secretary for Press at Zambia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN)in New York, Moses Walubita.
In her presentation on country specific achievements, the First lady outlined the main areas of promotion and advocacy of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS(OAFLA)to which she is Patron through the current ” Save the Unborn Child of the First Ladies Campaign”, as the Prevention of PMTCT, Increase activities to expand HIV/AIDS testing, and promoting the use of microbicides and the female condom.
On key findings in the 2008 progress report themed”Towards Universal Access”, Mrs Mwanawasa noted that the findings were encouraging but that there was still a long way to go.
The key findings in the 2008 progress report indicate a number of interventions that were undertaken in 2007 on Prevention from Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). The Report show that,
Global and national political commitment to scale up interventions for preventing PMTCT had intensified in recent years, and an increasing number of countries were expanding their national programmes.
An estimated 18 percent of pregnant women in low and middle income countries received an HIV test in 2007 and 10 percent in 2004.
An estimated 33 percent pregnant women living with HIV received antiretrovirals to prevent transmission to their children in 2007, a substantial increase compared with only 10 percent in 2004. The most significant expansion was in sub-saharan Africa.
The number of children receiving anti retro viral therapy increased from about 75 000 in 2005 to almost 200 000 in 2007 among other interventions.
The key findings were as a result of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted at the UN Special Session on the pandemic in 2001 where countries pledged to reduce the proportion of infants with HIV by 50 percent by 2010 and ensure that 80 percent of pregnant women attending antenatal care have access to essential services to reduce mother-to-child transmission.
The First Lady explained that the objectives were to identify critical elements necessary for the successful scaling up of national PMTCT programmes, generate discussion regarding which elements should be replicated and which should be avoided, and advise national leaders on future directions for programme expansion and reaffirm targets and goals for universal access to PMTCT.
And featuring at a roundtable discussion at a luncheon hosted by the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs Jeannette Kagame, who is the High Representative for the African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP), Mrs Mwanawasa said in Africa, Zambia was one of the countries hard hit by AIDS with a prevalence rate of 14 percent.
The First Lady said although there was a drop from 16 percent, more women than men who were affected in Zambia, the epidemic was generalised with a high prevalence in urban than rural areas adding that the principle modes of transmission were through heterosexual contact and mother to child transmission.
She said blood had been made safe through mandatory screening while in the area of research, the Zambian Government initiated observational studies in transmission remedies using the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, though no cure had been found.
Mrs Mwanawasa further explained that the Zambian government had been engaged in the vaccine trial for the promising candidate vaccine under the African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and microbicides research had been conducted.
The vaccine trials, the First Lady said were part of the multi-centre research in many countries including Zambia, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. She said University Teachibng Hospital (UTH) Consultant Pediatrician Dr Elwyin Chomba was Zambia’s Principal Investigator adding that the country has research centres in Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe.
The First Lady told the gathering that research was done in partnership with the Zambia Emory HIV Research Project and so far phases 1 and 2 have been conducted with an overwhelming response but noted that early indications have confirmed that safety and efficacy were yet to be determined.
She added that the Zambian government has set up systems to monitor and regulate research through the National Research and Ethics Committee and the Bio Data Monitoring Board.
While in New York, Mrs Mwanawasa was interviewed by the United Nations Radio and BBC Afrique. In both interviews, Mrs Mwanawasa highlighted a number of issues on the AIDS pandemic in Zambia and her role as OAFLA President. The First Lady had also a meeting with the United Nations Joint Organisation on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director, Dr Peter Piot.