MUTARE – U.S. Government will this year unveil a $95 million rescue package for integrated intervention programs towards virtual elimination of HIV transmission in Zimbabwe, a diplomat has revealed.
Coordinator of the U.S. Presidential Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), Mark Troger made these revelations at the official opening of an Early Infant Diagnosis laboratory in Mutare.
Similar amounts have been released since 2012 towards the target of an HIV free generation.
The laboratory is part of two such centers, the other based at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo, which will see decentralisation of HIV testing services from Harare.
Troger said the U.S. was committed, through belief in long standing relationships, to strengthening health systems in Zimbabwe in response to HIV/AIDS.
“Both the U.S. and Zimbabwe Governments are encouraged by the strengthening of health systems in Zimbabwe and will continue to collaborate in response to HIV/AIDS in the country.
“PEPFAR has pledged $95 million towards the response to HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe for 2015 alone.
“I believe that through our strong, long-standing partnerships and under the able leadership of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe can and will make even greater strides towards sustainable health interventions in responding to HIV and AIDS,” he said.
The twin projects, which saw refurbishment and rehabilitation of two HIV testing laboratories were sponsored to the tune $1,7 million.
Health officials said decentralisation of laboratory services will have a positive impact at institutional levels in prevention and management of mother to child transmission of HIV.
This project will drastically reduce long turnover of results from 8-12 weeks to within just 4 days, cut back specimen transportation costs from peripheral sites as well as reduce burden on the national reference centre in Harare.
PEPFAR together with development partners including the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and The Biomedical Research Institute (BRTI) assisted the Ministry of Health and Childcare in refurbishing two laboratories.
Director of Laboratory Services in the Ministry of Health Dr Douglas Magwanya said there has been a gradual increase of laboratory services since the launch of the service in 2007, leading to the necessity of decentralisation.
“EID testing for HIV in exposed babies has previously been taking place at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory in Harare since 2007.
“The laboratory services directorate has seen a notable increase of tests carried out from 377 tests in 2007 from 12 sites to 50, 438 tests in 2014 from 1,585 sites.
“The transportation of specimens from peripheral sites to the reference laboratory has been a challenge including the long turnaround time for results.
“There was therefore a need to decentralise HIV DNA PCR testing to Matebeleland Province and Manicaland in order to avert unnecessary HIV-related mortality,” he said.
The HIV deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is one way of conclusively testing for HIV from children exposed to HIV positive mothers as they are born with antibodies.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health, Dr David Parirenyatwa, Provincial Medical Director Dr Patron Mafaune said HIV remains a challenge to the nation with a high national prevalence rate of 15%.
Dr Parirenyatwa also said child to mother transmission was also a challenge as 90% of affected babies succumbed to the infections.
“Zimbabwe continues to experience a high prevalence of HIV infections, with an HIV prevalence of 15% in the general population and an ANC sero-prevalence of 16.1%.
“Mother to child transmission of HIV is the second commonest route of transmission in Zimbabwe and the highest cause of HIV infection among children.
“The PMTCT program is working towards virtual elimination of HIV transmission from mother to child by 2015. The main evidence based indicator is laboratory test results. Hence there is need for increased laboratory access for HIV testing of infants,” he said.
Minister of State for Provincial Affairs in Mandi Chimene said PEPFAR’s intervention was a welcome development in a multi stakeholder fight against an epidemic she declared as an attack of nations.
She said without such cooperative efforts government, inundated by resources challenges in the response to HIV and AIDS, would lose the war against the devastating epidemic.
“HIV is an attack of nations. If it were a war we could fight back by firing at it we would have hope of being victorious.
“It’s painful for mothers to see their children suffering without knowledge of what is wrong because a child can only communicate through crying. Now there is a machine which will at least give mothers the peace of mind at knowing their child’s HIV status,” she said.
Deputy national coordinator PMTC, Pediatric HIV Care and Treatment AIDS and TB unit, Dr Solomon Mukungunugwa said this laboratory service will assist at two institutional levels.
“This will assist at two institutional levels, one the family because it will be able to initiate their HIV positive child on treatment early without delay.
“Second and most importantly the issue of sustainability is guaranteed for generations to come because they will be able to receive diagnosis longer and will be able to sustain the lives of positive children.
“To our program of PMTCT it is important to have confirmed HIV diagnosis on ART because it will show us the effectiveness of our PMTCT interventions,” he said.
Infants who test positive will commence Anti Retroviral Treatment earlier which could lead to significant reduction of HIV/AIDS related morbidity and mortality.
To date a total of 10,175 cases have been attended since April 2014 when the project was launched in Mutare, serving Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, while the Bulawayo laboratory which serves Matebeleland North and South provinces commenced operations in September 2014.