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Access to treatment vital

IN 2014, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) embarked on an ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic.
The programme is dubbed ‘UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets’.
According to UNAIDS, the 90-90-90 targets are aimed at having 90 percent of all people living with HIV to get to know their HIV status by the year 2020.
Another 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV should receive sustained antiretroviral therapy while another 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) should have their viral load suppressed.
These targets were endorsed by various governments at a UN high-level meeting on ending HIV/AIDS in New York in June where Zambia was represented by permanent representative to the United Nations Mwaba Kasese-Bota.
At first glance, these targets seem unrealistic considering that there are only four years between now and 2020.
According to a recent UNAIDS report on the targets, “Central Africa is falling behind in realising these targets. Without substantial commitment recourse, the global 90-90-90 target is not achievable.”
This is based on the fact that central Africa has continued to record a rising number of new HIV infections.
These new infections are among many reasons the 90-90-90 targets may not be achieved in their stipulated time.
The latest Prevention Gap report from the UNAIDS indicates that reduced donor funding to HIV/AIDS prevention programmes has also contributed to the rising number of new infections, especially among young people.
New infections are but some of the challenges that stand against these targets.
However, the targets remain achievable through various approaches grounded in principles of human rights, mutual respect, and easy access to treatment by patients.
It will be impossible to end the epidemic without bringing HIV treatment to all who need it.
In Zambia, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is leading the way in ensuring that treatment facilities are delivered to people in need of these services.
AHF Zambia is part of the large global AIDS organisations operating in 36 countries globally.
The organisation offers testing, treatment, care and support at both country and global level.
Last week, I was privileged to attend a function where the organisation donated laboratory equipment worth over K1,330,000 at Twatasha Clinic in Kitwe’s Twatasha area.
The equipment donated included a biosafety cabinet, laboratory equipment and a motorbike for logistical purposes.
The equipment will play a central role in the monitoring of HIV clients.
“As a country, we need to expand in this area [of access to treatment] if we have to monitor progress towards UNAIDS/WHO 90-90-90 fast-track targets,” AHF national medical director Brig Gen Dr Lawson Simapuka said.
The foundation has also embarked on the 20/20 campaign in its contribution to the realisation of the 90-90-90 targets by supporting 23 government ART sites and three stand-alone sites.
These have helped in capturing over 60,000 clients under its care as of last month.
Dwindling resources have been cited to be among the major challenges that hinder proper health service delivery in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
It is, therefore, gratifying to see that there are organisations willing to supplement Government and global efforts to eliminate the epidemic.
Such donations like the one made by AHF are a significant milestone in addressing the burden of HIV and AIDS that our country faces.
It is a right step in the direction of ending the epidemic in the near future.
The equipment will facilitate timely processing of laboratory samples and therefore lead to timely decision-making by the clinicians at Twatasha Clinic.
It will also contribute significantly to improving quality of care for people living with HIV and AIDS.
In its 2013 report, the UNAIDS says, “Ending AIDS will require uninterrupted access to lifelong treatment for tens of millions of people, necessitating strong, flexible health and community systems.”
HIV treatment is a unique tool in the AIDS response, preventing illness and death, averting new infections and saving money.
With such equipment made readily available to the community on their doorstep, the onus is on patients to ensure they access the services.
This will in turn translate to positive gains in the effort to achieve the 90-90-90 targets on time.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.