Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo has said closing the treatment gap for pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent mother living with HIV is cardinal to end AIDS in children by 2030.
Speaking at the HIV/Aids advocacy campaign luncheon on ending aids in children at Hotel Intercontinental in Lusaka on Wednesday, Ms. Masebo advocated more efforts aimed at helping Zambia attain the goal of ending AIDS in children by 2030.
The Minister of Health said there is also a need to prevent and detect new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women.
“Children around the world are still far less likely than adults to have access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. This is despite the progress made to reduce transmission of HIV from mothers to children; this is despite the increase in testing and treatment, and this is despite theexpanded access to information. Globally, only half (52%) of children living with HIV are on life-saving ARVs, far behind adults where three quarters (76%) are receiving ARVs. Here back home in Zambia, we have an estimated 80,000 children aged 0 -14 years who are HIV positive yet only about 60% of them are on life saving ARVs. This indeed is a scandal when we compare to more than 90% of HIV infected adults who are on HIV treatment. Concerned by the stalling of progress for children, and the widening gap between children and adults, UNAIDS, UNICEF, WHO and partners have brought together a global alliance to ensure that no child living with HIV is denied treatment by the end of the decade. This will also prevent new infant HIV infections. This new Global Alliance for Ending AIDS in Children by 2030 was announced at the International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada where I represented Zambia as one of the 12 most affected countries,” Ms. Masebo said.
“For us to have an effective strategy to end AIDS in children by 2030, our efforts should be centered around the following identified four pillars for collective action: closing the treatment gap for pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women living with HIV and optimizing continuity of treatment; preventing and detecting new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women; accessible testing, optimized treatment, and comprehensive care for infants, children, and adolescents exposed to and living with HIV; and addressing rights, gender equality, and the social and structural barriers that hinder access to services,” she said.
Ms. Masebo revealed that Zambia has continued to see high rates of new infections especially affecting adolescents and young people.
“Indeed we applaud the significant progress in the HIV response in children and adolescents in the last 2 decades in terms of prevention of mother to child transmission and care and treatment. But let us reflect also on the fact that we have continued to see high rates of new infections especially affecting adolescents and young people; let us reflect also on the fact that we continueto lag behind in finding the children living with HIV who need ARVs for better and healthier lives. In order to respond to these identified remaining gaps, the government has employed key strategic programs in 1) HIV prevention for adolescents 2) HIV case finding of children 3) optimized ARV drugs to improve retention to care and viral suppression. Further, through the Ministry of Health, the government has strengthened leadership and coordination of all players. These include funding agencies, implementing partners, civil society organisations and the community that are involved in the childhood HIV response,” she said.
“It is for this reason that when the invitation to a strategic partnership with the Global Alliance to end AIDS in Children came, we grabbed it with both hands. We grabbed it with bonds especially that there is already existing high-level political commitment supporting the HIV response in the country. The Global Alliance to End AIDS in Children is an opportunity to renew our commitment to children and their families to unite. It is indeed an opportunity to speak and to act with purpose and in solidarity with all mothers, children and adolescents. Our Ministry’s commitment will include, among many other things: (a) convening a country team to participate in relevant Alliance working groups and activities, (b) measuring and sharing data relative to key indicators of the Alliance, and (c) continue implementing of WHO recommended guidance and policies to achieve global targets,” Ms. Masebo said.
She said the newly launched HIV/AIDS advocacy campaign will contribute towards ending AIDS in children and keeping mothers healthy.
“This HIV/AIDS advocacy campaign you (First Lady Mutinta Hichilema) are launching today will contribute towards ending AIDS in children and keeping mothers healthy through the following goals: Raised awareness of the HIV epidemic in children and the need to prioritize children and mothers. This will ensure that successes achieved in reducing infections are extended to this vulnerable group. Increased understanding of how to prevent HIV and AIDS in childhood by 1) keeping mothers healthy 2) preventing mother-to-child transmission and 3) ensuring fast and effective identification and treatment of HIV infected children. Advocacy for resources and prioritization of the delivery of effective and sustainable HIV and AIDS health services; these services should be accessible to all who need them.Increased awareness of how services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV are well placed to achieve wider health goals. This will lead to improved outcomes for children and mothers, including the elimination of syphilis,” she said.
“The Ending AIDS in children campaign should have a goal of supporting communication and advocacy in Zambia’s efforts to achieve HIV epidemic control.The campaign should aim at moving away from HIV campaign fatigue and re-ignite the focus on HIV prevention. It is anchored on taking control to end AIDS, respecting self and others and making a difference. We must all sprint together to end AIDS in children by 2030. To succeed, we need a healthy, informed generation of young people who feel free to talk about HIV, and to get the services and support they need to protect themselves and their children from HIV. As we sprint together let us not leave mothers and women behind. Let us showwhat is possible when we let women and communities create solutions tailored to their realities,” Ms. Masebo stated.
“As I conclude let me highlight what I and the ministry of health believe; Our ministry believes that through this approach we will be able to fix one of the most glaring disparities in the AIDS response; Our ministry believes that this wide gap in treatment coverage between children and adults is an outrage but yet fixable; Our ministry believes that through these alliances, we will channel that outrage into action; Our ministry believes that bringing together new improved medicines, new political commitment, and the determined activism of communities, we can be the generation who end AIDS in children; Our ministry believes that no child should be born with or grow up with HIV; Our ministry believes that no child with HIV should go without treatment; Our ministry believes that we can remove this scandal, and a stain on our collective conscience; and Our ministry believes that we can win this – but we can only win together,” she concluded.