Zimbabwe: new survey will give accurate picture of HIV epidemic

A new survey will give policymakers a comprehensive picture of the HIV epidemic in Zimbabwe, while giving people access to free testing and counselling.

A new survey will give policymakers a comprehensive picture of the HIV epidemic in Zimbabwe, while giving people access to free testing and counselling.

The six-month Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA) survey was launched on 27 September. Using a sample of 15,000 households, it will enable Zimbabwe to benchmark progress towards the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

Dr Mutsa Mhangara, strategic information coordinator, HIV/AIDS and TB programmes, for the ministry of health and child care, said: “ZIMPHIA provides free testing and counselling with clinic referral in the privacy and comfort of a participant’s home. It is both a survey and a service.”

Other benefits of the survey include complementing the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey by providing unique HIV-specific indicators.

“Together the two surveys will provide a more complete perspective on public health in Zimbabwe,” Dr Mhangara said. “It will also provide information that can be used to guide policy and programming.”

Scope of the survey

Dr Mhangara said that ZIMPHIA’s goals are to describe the current status of the HIV epidemic in Zimbabwe, assessing the access to and uptake of HIV prevention, care and treatment services. It will look at prevalence of recent HIV infection in a household-based, nationally representative sample of HIV infected adults. It will also estimate the sub-national prevalence of suppressed HIV viral load (an indicator of how many people are responding well to antiretroviral treatment).

Dr Mhangara added that the survey will measure HIV prevalence in adults and children, distribution of CD4 T-cell counts, prevalence of transmitted drug resistance, prevalence of syphilis, antiretroviral coverage, nutrition in HIV positive children, behaviours related to HIV transmission and condom use.

“We will also assess use of HIV-related services focusing on prevention, care and treatment including HIV knowledge and attitudes,” he said.

A more accurate picture

Dr Mhangara said that that population-based surveys are the gold standard for providing accurate health indicators. Current data in Zimbabwe comes largely from health facilities and now the health ministry wants to get into the communities to acquire the information.

He said: “Facility-based data describes only the sub-set of the population that engages with facilities and existing services. It is difficult to infer population measures such as prevalence or incidence from this.”

He added that this will provide a truer Zimbabwean picture of HIV prevalence than that coming from the hospitals.

The ministry of health and child care will lead the survey. It will work with the USA’s Center for Diseases Control, the National AIDS Council, Zimbabwe’s Biomedical Research and Training Institute and ICAP (Columbia University’s School of Public Health).

Community response

Emmanuel Gasa, an activist campaigning for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, said that the ZIMPHIA survey was very welcome in Zimbabwe since it will provide access to accurate information on people’s needs.

“This survey will help members of the communities in Zimbabwe to acquire free viral load testing and CD4 count services to their benefit,”Gasa said.

He envisaged the impact would be overwhelming since communities will now be able to plan how to support people living with HIV and AIDS, knowing their needs and resources required.

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COMMENTS

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