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NEW DRIVE TO GET ALL HIV+ ON TREATMENT

By Jabu Matsebula | 2020-11-20

MAPHIVENI: IN the last push to rid the country of new HIV infections, a new drive to put everyone that is HIV positive under treatment will be launched in the next few weeks.

The move follows evidence that the country has scored major successes in its battle to eliminate a virus that has held the country to ransom for the past 40 years.

“We’ve hit the snake. It’s paralysed,” declared Khanya Mabuza. “But it’s not yet dead. We must crush it’s head.” Mabuza is National Executive Director of the National Emergency Response Council on HIV&AIDS which has been tasked with leading the national response since 1992.

Widespread introduction of Ante Retroviral Treatment  (ART) over 10 years ago has shown that people on treatment have benefitted from high suppression of the virus in their bodies to a point where it is not only undetectable but their health returns to normal and the danger of infecting others is drastically reduced.

Currently 95 per cent of HIV+ people who know their status are now on treatment. High priority is to get that remaining  5 per cent onto treatment by 2022.

Treatment

“We are going all out to find HIV wherever it is. We need to place everyone that is HIV positive on treatment at the same time promote HIV prevention awareness to ensure protections of the large majority of the population that is HIV negative, especially young girls. We’re fanning out and taking the HIV campaign where people are. We will be visiting imiphakatsi (community administrative centres) armed with the data that shows us exactly where the problems are”.

Speaking at the launch of the first of a series of the 2020 World AIDS Day (WAD) campaigns at Maphiveni on the outskirts of the vital north Lubombo sugarcane district, Mabuza highlighted the 2022 target of eliminating HIV&AIDS as a public health threat as an urgent task.

He told the gathering of community members that was joined by government leaders, health activists and members of parliament from the surrounding Tinkhundla that Eswatini has finally cornered the virus after decades of sustained investment in the HIV response.

A United Nations finding in July, confirmed that the kingdom that holds the record for the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates had scored a 95-95-95 success rate 10 years ahead of schedule. By getting 95 per cent of HIV positive people to know their status and get on treatment as well as to achieve viral load suppression 95 per cent of those on treatment while preventing HIV transmission of HIV from mother to child by 95 per cent means the country is close achieving a world record of eliminating the virus.

Calendar

“When you look at the calendar you realise that 2022 is actually only months away. We are therefore in the last mile”

“This ‘Last Mile’ will be very hard work. That is why some of us cannot sleep at night,” he said.  “That is why we are appealing to community leaders, to members of Parliament, the United Nation, representatives of business and other national leaders to hear our strategies and lend us their support in ensuring that everyone knows their status and that those that need, are put on treatment.

The ‘Last Mile’ campaign is informed by data which enables HIV response teams to target areas of concern.

“We now know where the problems are, Mabuza said. “For instance, Lubombo is not doing well especially in rate of new infections among the 15-45 year age group. We know how many people are HIV positive in each region. In Manzini for instance there are 71 953 HIV positive people. There are 40,593 HIV positive people in Lubombo, but we are concerned that many of them are not on treatment. We even know for instance that in Lubombo at least 2 000 people who know their status are not on treatment. ”

Risk of HIV Transmission With Undetectable Viral Load by Transmission Category

Transmission Category Risk for People Who Keep an Undetectable

Sex (oral, anal, or vaginal)            Effectively no risk

Pregnancy, labor, and delivery one per cent or less†

Sharing syringes or other drug injection equipment unknown, but likely reduced risk.

Breastfeeding Substantially reduces, but does not eliminate risk.

But Shiselweni is doing extremely well. “This is one region that is we must praise. They have only 298 HIV+ people who know their status but not on treatment. They will hit the 100 per cent target without a problem.”

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