By Watmore Makokoba
The Ministry of Health and Child Care, National AIDS Council (NAC), Population Services International (PSI) and other stakeholders have launched a milestone campaign yesterday aimed at encouraging as many people as possible to know their status through innovative strategies to reach the difficult to reach populations of the country.
Since the inception of HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) since 1984, Dr. Owen Mugurungi, AIDS and TB programmes director says “there was very little on offer for those testing HIV positive”, the best that could be done then was to counsel them on positive living with HIV palliative care and bereavement counseling.
Dr Muguti said the timely arrival of Anti Retro-Viral (ARVs) drugs and such initiatives such as HIV Testing provides a platform for comprehensive services to communities in the country.
“We would like to acknowledge the coming in of ARVs and other new interventions which are now on offer such as HTC. This provides us as service providers with an opportunity to provide comprehensive services to our communities, once they are tested for HIV. This is despite one testing positive or negative, we have an array of services for our clients”, said Dr Muguti.
Minister of State for Provincial Affairs-Harare Metropolitan Hon. Miriam Chikukwa, who was Guest of Honour at the launch expressed government’s commitment towards curbing the spread of the HIV pandemic.
“The Government of Zimbabwe remains committed and focused on halting and working towards reversing the spread of HIV in line with the Millennium Development Goals. As we enter the homestretch, towards 2015 our primary target in HIV testing and counselling (HTC) is that 85% of the people in Zimbabwe know their HIV status”, she said.
The HTC and guidelines’ primary objective is to attain universal access in HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care services, and expand services for Testing and Counselling to all people in urban and rural settings of Zimbabwe.
Although this stride comes against a background of an encouraging general decline of new infections in Zimbabwe, research indications depicting a 17% increase in STIs in Harare metropolitan calls for more awareness campaigns towards behaviour change. The last Diseases and Health Survey of 2010-2011 showed a continued decline in Adult HIV prevalence rate, from 18% in 2005 to the current 15%.
About 1.3million Zimbabweans are living with HIV. The drop in the infection rate can be attributed among other things to, the rising number of people getting tested and who know their status as this has encourages people to take more responsible behaviour that limit the risk of spreading of HIV.
Male Circumcision campaign and exercise currently being carried out by the Population Services International (PSI) in partnership with the Ministry of Health has also been attributed to the general decline in the spread of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe.
Hon Chikukwa says, “To those who test HIV negative, we encourage them to reduce their risk of getting the infection. After the HIV test, we refer for further services, such as Male Circumcision as it has been proven to be effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission and has been adopted by our Government as one of the preventive strategies to stop HIV transmission. So to all men, I say get tested and “Pinda muSmart”, get circumcised!”
Fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS is among the UN Millennium Development Goals strategic goals and the pandemic has cost the world trillions of dollars and millions of lives have been lost worldwide due to the virus.