President Hakainde Hichilema says the government is worried about the latest Zambia Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (ZAMPHIA) results which have revealed that adolescents and young people have continued to have far too many new HIV infections.
President Hichilema said the country must continue to reach vulnerable populations with innovative HIV testing and treatment strategies.
The President further said Zambia must pay more attention to adolescent girls and young women as they continue to be, not only at a higher risk of HIV infection, but suffer consequences of its impact more than the general population.
President Hichilema said this in a speech read on his behalf by Minister of Education Douglas Syakalima in Lusaka today during the commemoration of the World AIDS Day held at Mulungushi International Conference Centre under the theme ‘Equalise! Closing the gaps’.
President Hichilema also called on all relevant authorities to double the efforts in addressing the treatment gap for children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV.
He said recently, the First Lady, Mrs Mutinta Hichilema, who is the patroness for the Zambian chapter of the Global HIV Prevention Coalition, partnered with UNAIDS and the National AIDS Council on an HIV/AIDS advocacy campaign focusing on Ending AIDS in Children by 2030.
President Hichilema said government pledges to fully support the campaign so that the set goal is reached.
And President Hichilema has said with over 1.3 million people living with HIV, Zambia remains one of the countries globally that have been hard hit by the HIV epidemic.
President Hichilema said the ZAMPHIA 2021 results released by my Minister of Health are indeed a testament to the extraordinary results that are possible when there is teamwork.
“I am talking of the government, traditional leadership, religious groups, civil society, including all networks of people living with HIV, the private sector, research and academia and our HIV cooperating partners, many of whom are gathered here,” said President Hichilema.
He has since commended the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Council, all government wings and everyone else who worked hard to complete the ZAMPHIA survey, despite the challenges of Covid-19.
“Special thanks go to the HIV cooperating partners in particular, the United States Government through the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) who provided both technical and financial resources,” he added.
President Hichilema also commended the Zambian medical and research teams, including researchers from University of Maryland, USA, for their sustained efforts in increasing knowledge about HIV in order to help improve prevention, treatment and care outcomes.
And President Hichilema said he is aware of some population groups in society that are at higher risk of HIV because of their unique behaviours and circumstances.
He said because of social and structural barriers which put them at higher risk of getting HIV, they are judged and stigmatised resulting in them not being able to access HIV and health services even when government does not discriminate against anyone based on any social status.
“These most at-risk populations live among us. They are our sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters and in some instances, mothers and fathers and women, boys and girls so that we can plan our interventions more effectively and appropriately,” he said.
He said there is need , therefore, to commit to closing the inequality gaps that are continuing to fuel new HIV infections and causing premature deaths.
President Hichilema said his government remains unwaveringly committed to achieving national, regional, and global goals of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
He added that this includes ending AIDS in children by 2030 as part of the global alliance committed to this cause.
“For us to attain this goal, I call upon all key HIV stakeholders to first of all acknowledge and review the wide range of systemic and socio-economic challenges that are feeding and driving the HIV epidemic. I am talking of challenges like limited financing, inadequate health infrastructure and implementation of proven HIV prevention and treatment services at scale,” he said.
President Hichilema further assured that the government is commited to ensuring that the country’s laws and policies are not in themselves barriers to accessing HIV, health and social services.
Speaking earlier, Minister of health, Sylvia Masebo said she is optimistic that Zambia can end HIV and AIDS completely.
Ms Masebo said the government is aiming at fighting stigmatisation and inequality by providing treatment to infected individuals.
She praised health workers for their dedication to save lives and offer hope to the affected individuals.
And United Nations Resident Coordinator, Beatrice Muntali, said HIV is no longer a death sentence as antiretrovirol treatment allows persons living with HIV to live healthy and long lives.
She said the United Nations will continue to provide support in the fight of HIV as it is its responsibility to protect the human rights of every person.
And Princess Kasune, a mother living positively with HIV, urged mothers who have the HIV to approach life positively saying HIV is no longer a death sentence.
Ms Kasune said parents living with or without HIV should have their children tested for HIV and AIDS as this is the first step to fighting HIV.