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Battle against HIV not yet over

ON DECEMBER 1, Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating World AIDS Day.
With the 2016 theme, “Hands up in HIV prevention”, we were once again reminded that while much has been accomplished, still more needs to be done to diagnose and treat people living with HIV and reduce new infections if we are to achieve UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets for an AIDS-free generation by 2030. Redoubled efforts are particularly important for adolescent girls, young women, and key populations that are at high risk of contracting HIV.
The 2016 Zambia Population HIV Impact Assessment (ZAMPHIA), revealed that there is remarkable progress against HIV, with declining rates of new infections and about 59 percent of all people living with HIV showing viral suppression through proper use of antiretroviral medication.
Statistics have also shown that deaths from AIDS had reduced to 19,000 as of June 2016 compared to 24,000 in 2013,
These and other findings are a source of hope for Zambia and the rest of the world, yet still about 46,000 Zambians contract HIV every year. Meanwhile, the majority of people living with HIV, along with the population at large, are waiting to hear the progress scientists have made in finding a cure and whether the goal of zero new HIV infections is attainable given the fact that more people are getting infected with HIV every day.
With Zambia’s shortage of trained medical personnel and the financial constraints experienced within the health system balanced against increasing numbers of HIV patients and the ongoing need for health services, there is a critical push to provide HIV prevention, treatment, and care services in a more efficient way.
For Zambia’s existing health workers, continuous professional development is vital to HIV prevention, treatment, and care delivery at all levels of the healthcare system. In addition to in-service training to upgrade knowledge and skills, health personnel should be exposed to evidence-based best practices that embrace the use of technology in health. They also have to understand the needs of their patients and positively engage them at the point of care to first engage them in treatment and then to promote adherence.
The American International Health Alliance (AIHA) has been partnering with the Zambian government since 2005 to help strengthen the country’s health system capacity to combat HIV/AIDS. With support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), AIHA has developed a number of partnerships and initiatives to upgrade the skills of health and allied caregivers in line with Zambia’s human resources for health needs and national AIDS strategy.
AIHA has long-term national partnerships with the Zambian Defence Force’s military medical services, University Teaching Hospital, and Livingstone Central Hospital that focus respectively on integrating evidence-based practice to improve quality of care and strengthening clinical pharmacy services. More recently, AIHA established a partnership with the Ministry of Health to strengthen laboratory management capacity and another with the community-based Chreso Ministries that focuses on improving access to HIV care. AIHA also supports Zambia Rising, a project to improve care and support for orphans and vulnerable children led by Save the Children. Past partners include the Palliative Care Alliance of Zambia and the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication Educational Trust (ZAMCOM).
AIHA’s skills-based training initiatives in Zambia focus on building in-country capacity to teach health workers in a way that supports local needs and sustainability within the country’s health system. The organisation’s projects also integrate a wide range of evidence-based, cost-effective approaches, including innovative technologies such as telemedicine, into the provision of HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.
Other advancements in technology and its use in health care — particularly for sharing critical health information — are key to targeting young people, especially girls and young women, who are at heightened risk for HIV infection. At the health facility level, technology can support health workers as they strive to improve access to a broad range of services, including HIV care and reproductive health care. Getting prevention messages out to these and other vulnerable populations is a priority for AIHA, as it should be for every Zambian citizen who wants to play a role in setting the country’s healthcare agenda.
AIHA’s work in Zambia remains focused on making strategic and scientifically sound investments to maximise impact and efficiencies. AIHA is also committed to working with the Zambian government and partners drawn from the health system, civil society, faith- and community-based organisations, and the private sector to implement activities that minimise stigma and discrimination and support gender equality. With a strong emphasis on country ownership of HIV programming, AIHA supports Zambia’s efforts to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets, reduce the number of new HIV infections in the country to zero, and attain an AIDS-free generation.
These innovative interventions are implemented through AIHA’s HIV/AIDS Twinning Center, a programme funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to tap into the knowledge, expertise and commitment of an extensive pool of skilled health and allied professionals who contribute their experience to address health and social workforce shortages in resource-constrained countries.
The author is the programme coordinator at American International Health Alliance’s HIV/AIDS Twinning Centre – Zambia Office.