Zambia: 23 babies born with HIV daily says UNAIDS

UNAIDS’ Zambia country director says that despite good progress made in responding to HIV in the last ten years, Zambia is ranked tenth globally for the highest number of people living with HIV.

UNAIDS’ Zambia country director says that despite good progress made in responding to HIV in the last ten years, Zambia is ranked tenth globally for the highest number of people living with HIV.

Dr Medhin Tsehaiu was speaking at the Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAAL) on 29 July.

“Around 8,000 babies are born from mothers living with HIV annually, meaning that 23 babies are born HIV positive every day,” Dr Tsehaiu said. “We must reverse this situation, these infections could have been averted by effectively implementing option B+ which means putting mothers on lifelong antiretroviral therapy.

“I must state that this is a low hanging fruit. Zambia could achieve the target of elimination of mother to child transmission by the end of 2015 if all of us do our part because it really requires leadership at all levels.”

Declining HIV rates

Dr Tsehaiu added Zambia’s HIV prevalence is declining. “New infections have also been reduced from 82,000 in 2007 to around 54,000 in 2014 which means that there are about 54,000 new infections every year which is a good achievement,” she said.

Despite this progress, inequality between men and women remains a significant challenge that still needs addressing, particularly with regards to high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) as well as barriers women face in accessing HIV services.

Dr Tsehaiu said: “Principals of gender equality must be applied across the response and every effort must be made to reduce GBV and inequality at all levels.”

Local leaders’ role in ending AIDS

UNAIDS in Zambia continues to place great importance on the role of local government as a key partner in achieving the new global sustainable development goals, as well as UNAIDS’ goal to end AIDS by 2030.

“I am pleased to inform you that the AIDS target for millennium development goal six which relates to halting and reversing the spread of HIV globally has been achieved, and even exceeded the target of putting 15 million people on ART before the deadline of 2015,” Dr Tsehaiu said.

She also noted that although there are 15 years to reach the new vision of ending AIDS, the next five years will be critical in determining if that goal can be achieved.

HIV treatment in Zambia

AMICAAL chairman Nathan Chanda Bwalya said the number of people on HIV treatment in Zambia has increased from 3,500 in 2004 to 671,000 in 2014.

Bwalya said: “The Government, in line with WHO guidelines, has decided to administer antiretroviral therapy to people that have a CD4 count of 500. This will inevitably increase people on antiretrovirals, however despite this seemingly impressive achievement our HIV prevalence still remains very high and what is more worrisome is the rate of new infections among our young people.”

According to Dr Tsehaiu Zambia currently has about 500,000 people living with HIV who do not know their status. “We must promote HIV testing which is the entry point to treatment,” she said.

Bwaylya added: “I am appealing to all local authorities for initiatives that will lead to a reduction of new HIV infections among young people. I implore you to provide the leadership that is required in responding to this challenge. The leadership we need should be the leadership for lack of better words I will describe as ‘positive infectious leadership’ a leadership that acts and lives what it preaches. Let us ensure that we put in place projects and programmes that improve the lives of the people we have been elected to serve.”

Funding the HIV response

National AIDS Council chairperson Dr George Tembo also urged the local governments not to be complacent to avoid an increase of new HIV infections, especially among young people.

“We need as much as possible to put focus on prevention, we have done extremely well in other areas but we need to make sure that our eyes are focused on things that will sustain and not erode our achievement,” Tembo said.

He appealed to local governments to be innovative and raise their own financial resources as dependence on donor funds is not sustainable.

“We need to look at innovative ways of raising funds. The responsibility of the AIDS response is not only the responsibility of government alone, it is also the responsibility of all of us, it starts from the family, and individuals from the community,” Tembo said.

“How are we working with the private sector? How are we utilising the constituency development funds? How are we going to utilise the levies? It’s all these methods that we need to look at if the HIV response is going to be sustained.”

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