Government says its policy change from Voluntary HIV counselling and Testing (VCT) to HIV Testing, Counselling and Treatment (HTCT) is posting good results.
And Provincial HIV/AIDS Coordination Advisor Mrs Rosemary Masaku says in the period January to June, 2018, a total of 367,358 people underwent routine HIV testing services and 10,485 were found positive representing a positivity rate of 3 per cent.
Speaking during the commemoration of HIV Counselling, Testing and Treatment Day held at Njola-Mwanza in Chief Mwanza’s area yesterday under the Theme, My Family, My Nation, My Responsibility” , Southern Province Minister Dr Edify Hamukale said the shift by government to shift from the traditional VCT TO HTCT was bearing fruit as it has ensured that there is an increased number of people who know their HIV status and be on Anti-Retroviral treatment.
Dr Hamukale stated that the policy change in the approach to the fight against HIV/AIDS from VCT to HTCT was a sign of government’s commitment to end the health burden by 2030.
“ The policy shift was an expensive venture in the short term as it expands the public health bill to accommodate more people placed on treatment immediately they are diagnosed HIV positive, “ the minister said.
The long term benefits, stated the provincial minister, compensate for the initial high costs on procurement of drugs and equipment through improved health outcomes and sound economy.
“The government policy change from VCT to HTCT is a bold decision aimed at increasing both the number of people who know their status and increasing the number people enrolled on life saving Antiretroviral Drugs.
“ Although this policy change based on sero positive results and not on CD 4 count criteria is an expensive venture in the short term as it expands the public health bill to accommodate more people placed on treatment immediately they are diagnosed HIV positive, the long term benefits of improved health outcomes and sound economy outweighs the costs of procuring drugs and diagnostic equipment,” said Dr Hamukale.
Dr Hamukale also noted that children were still at greater risk of the consequences of HIV than any other age group and that despite this childhood HIV detection and treatment remain low adding that it was for this reason that the Patriotic Front (PF) government was deliberately targeting mothers, children and other vulnerable groups to expedite the country’s crusade towards the end of HIV/AIDS.
Various cooperating partners such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), The President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief(PEPFAR), The United Nations among others have played their respective critical roles in helping the country to steer out of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which has witnessed a reduction of annual HIV infections rates from around 80,000 to about 45,000 by end of 2017.
And Mrs Masaku said 11,165 positive clients were started on treatment early this year and that a total of 110,679 people living with HIV were currently active on treatment in Southern province.
She observed that men of age groups 24 to 49 are the most missed in terms of identification and linkage to care adding that more targeted approaches of identifying those who are found positive and not on treatment need to be employed and should include work place testing, index testing among others.
“The UNAIDS spectrum model estimates that a total of 160,000 people in southern province are living with HIV/AIDS and this means that 69 per cent people living with HIV are currently linked to treatment and care.
“ Further analysis shows that men of age groups 24 to 49 are the most missed in terms of identification and linkage to care and therefore, there is need to accelerate efforts to reach out to the unreached population and especially the men between the ages of 24 to 49 years,” said Ms Masaku.
The implementation of the HTCT policy is seen as part of Zambia’s commitment to the global Goals of testing 90 per cent of people living with HIV and know their status, enrolling 90 per cent of people diagnosed on ART and ensuring that 90 per cent of those on ART are virally suppressed by 2020 and ultimately lead to the end of HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Meanwhile, Ms Masaku has appealed to government to support the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) with domestic financing to enable them continue in the fight against the epidemic in the province.
Currently, there are 185 stakeholders in the province providing HIV related services though a number of them have no funding or have ended their respective projects, in the region
Provincial AIDS Taskforce Chairperson Mr. Timothy Siakasiba thanked government for being supportive in programmes aimed at ending the HIV/AIDS burden in the province.
He also requested government to help in soliciting for funds to enable local NGOs engaged in the fights against HIV/AIDS in the province in order to sustain their programmes .
“ Doing this, will help it (government) to accelerate its efforts towards the ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, “ he said.