Zim to host HIV regional meeting
17 March 2017
ZIMBABWE will this coming week host regional countries in a meeting that will focus on setting up practical ways and strategies of stemming further HIV transmission.
The meeting, which is set for Victoria Falls, will run from March 23 to 24 and more than 15 Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries will converge following the signing of a new commitment by Ministers of Health in the ESA region on revitalisation of prevention strategies during the 21st International Conference on Aids, which took place in Durban, South Africa last year.
Speaking during a preparatory meeting ahead of the regional programme, Minister of Health and Child Care, David Parirenyatwa underscored the need for all countries in the region to focus on closing the tap on HIV new infections.
He also urged participants to explore all potential strategies that the country could employ in closing the tap.
“We are excited to be hosting over 15 regional countries as we have also invited countries from Indian sub-continent, South America and China to help us come up with best strategies for stemming the spread of HIV as we also look forward to learning from countries that have had best practices.
“We want to see what it is that we are not doing and how best can we then do it because our incidence rate is still high.
“Let us take stock of our current programming and identify the gaps that need to be filled.
“Yes we have several prevention strategies in place, but what is it that we are not doing? Let us explore all the possibilities to preventing HIV transmission,”
“It is therefore our hope that in this meeting (preparatory), we will set priorities and targets, which will feed into those of the entire sub region paying attention to our hotspots and key populations, which are the sources of new HIV infections.”
The new ESA commitment came after realising that current HIV programming focused more on HIV treatment at the expense of prevention hence threatening the ending of AIDS.
Although the number of new HIV infections in the country declined from about 1, 4 percent in the 1990s to the current 0, 48 percent, Minister Parirenyatwa bemoaned how Zimbabwe was still ranked among one of the high HIV burdened countries
The Health Minister said globally, the HIV prevention has also slowed down with the ESA region accounting for 46 percent of global new HIV infections in 2015.
He said given these statistics, there was need to revitalise prevention strategies to further reduce the rate of infection.
“Let’s focus on closing the tap on new HIV infections, give all risk groups the attention they deserve as we ensure that no one is left behind.
“Let us see how we can protect all these risk groups, give them pre-exposure prophylaxis if need be, to reduce their risk. There is to set realistic targets for the revitalisation programme as we meet with the region.
“We want to see what is it that we are not doing and how best can we then do it because our incidence rate is still high,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
The country has over the years employed various strategies in trying to reduce HIV transmission, strategies such as prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), Option B+, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMCZ), voluntary HIV testing, which have all helped the country in making tremendous gains in HIV.
With support from Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Foundation (EGPAF), PMTCT programmes provided antiretroviral treatment to HIV positive pregnant women to stop infants from acquiring the virus and although the country missed the global PMTCT targets, the country made tremendous gains in reducing HIV transmission in new born.
The Option B+ came as a recommendation by the World Health Organisation to health providers in HIV-affected countries to initiate all HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women on antiretroviral therapy for life. The country is contemplating putting even pregnant women who are HIV negative but at risk of HIV infection on pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Through the use of medical male circumcision after research proved that this reduced the risk of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60 percent although the Health Minister has repeatedly urged all the circumcised men to use protection and practice safe sex all the time.
The recently adopted Start Free, Stay Free, AIDs Free framework seeks to ensure that all babies are born free of HIV, stray free during their adolescent period, and ensuring that young people with HIV stay on treatment thereby ensuring an AIDS free generation.
This strategy came in the wake of increased HIV incidences in young people and deaths hence it seeks to galvanize global momentum around a shared ambitious agenda to build on the progress achieved under the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive.
Some of the prevention programmes the country is currently implementing include HIV self-testing, pre exposure prophylaxis, treatment as prevention, circumcision and condomisation.
According to the Health Minister, the ESA countries are set to come up with more preventive strategies that will help the region achieve the end AIDS target by 2030.