Govt ratchets up fight against HIV

BULAWAYO - The government has launched an ambitious $103 million, five-year HIV-testing strategy — to raise the number of people who know their status, as the country bids to build on the progress which has been made in the last seven years, which saw new HIV infections falling by 50 percent.

The testing strategy is part of the government’s efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 target — which seeks to have 90 percent of all people with HIV know their status, 90 percent of diagnosed people being on treatment, and 90 percent of those on treatment having suppressed levels of the virus in their bodies by 2020.

Launching the strategy here yesterday, Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Eunice Sandi-Moyo said without knowing their status, people living with HIV would not be able to access life-saving treatment.

“HIV testing is the entry point to all our HIV services, that is, from prevention to treatment, and support services.  Without knowing your HIV status, you cannot access any of the innovative life-saving comprehensive services that we have in all our 10 provinces in Zimbabwe.

“I am truly excited about this new strategy and make a special appeal to our funding partners to support the full implementation of this strategy.

“However, if the resources to implement each and every activity outlined in here are not availed, then it remains just a good document,” Sandi Moyo said.

According to the Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (Zimphia), the national testing coverage stands at 74 percent.

The figure is deemed low as 62 percent of men, and almost half of adolescent girls don’t know their status.

Zimbabwe has an HIV prevalence rate of 13,7 percent, and according to the 2016 national estimates, about 1,3 million people are living with HIV, with 86 000 being children.

The country has been making strides in its fight against HIV/Aids, despite the current economic turmoil which health experts say has hit the operations of most of the country’s major hospitals, including the procurement of essential drugs for people living with the pandemic.

In the last seven years, new HIV infections have fallen by 50 percent on the back of awareness and expanded treatment programmes.

During the presentation of his state-of-the-nation address on HIV/Aids last December, Health minister David Parirenyatwa announced that the country had recorded an equally impressive drop in HIV-related deaths, which fell from 3 000 a week to 900 during this period.

All in all, new HIV infections dropped from an estimated 82 570 in 2009 to 42 314 in 2016, raising hopes that Zimbabwe is on course to achieve its ambitious target to manage the pandemic by 2020.

“This reduction has been on account of the comprehensive combination of high impact HIV prevention interventions, which include HIV-testing services, prevention of mother-to-child (PMTC) infection, condom promotion and distribution, treatment as prevention, behaviour change and voluntary medical male circumcision,” Parirenyatwa said.

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