United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in Africa, Elizabeth Mataka, says tremendous progress has been made in the fight against HIV and AIDS on the African continent.
Mrs Mataka says a number of countries have scaled up their ARV programmes and other HIV preventive and life-prolonging interventions in the fight against the pandemic.
The UN Special Envoy said this during a media briefing on the sidelines of the on-going World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, today.
Mrs Mataka cited Zambia and Botswana as some of the countries in southern Africa that have posted significant gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
She said it was encouraging to note that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Zambia recently dropped from 16 per cent to 14 per cent, a result of a sustained and aggressive effort by the government, co-operating partners and other stakeholders.
Mrs Mataka also commended the Zambian government for widening access to ARVs from 2,000 beneficiaries about five years ago, to the current 200,000 people.
She, however, stressed that the HIV/AIDS scourge remains a mammoth challenge on the continent and called on leaders to honour the pledges they made at the Abuja Summit to commit more resources to the health sector, HIV/AIDS in particular.
Mrs Mataka, who is also Executive Director of the Zambia National AIDS Network (ZNAN), on the other hand, expressed happiness that none of the international co-operating partners have rescinded their financial commitments to the fight against HIV/AIDS despite the biting global economic crisis.
“The HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, is still a serious concern to the United Nations. But we are comforted by the fact that none of our co-operating partners have reneged on their financial commitments despite the prevailing global financial meltdown,” said Mrs Mataka.
She also called on African countries to embrace male circumcision as an integral part of strategies in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Mrs Mataka said there is compelling evidence that male circumcision is a significant deterrent in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
She noted with happiness that a number of countries on the continent, including Zambia, are coming up with policies on the implementation of male circumcision.
Mrs Mataka said she is aware that consultations are underway among various stakeholders in the country on the policy before it is finally rolled out.
Meanwhile, in a significant move from research on male circumcision to full scale implementation, the Male Circumcision Partnership is launching a massive scale-up of voluntary male circumcision services in Swaziland and Zambia.
The partnership is supported by a five-year US$ 50 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Population Services International (PSI), a leading global health organisation.
In a statement released by PSI at the on-going World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town and obtained by ZANIS today, the male circumcision partnership programme in Zambia and Swaziland also builds upon the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Cited by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS as an important intervention, male circumcision reduces HIV/AIDS infections among men by 60 per cent, according to scientific research.