DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
FROM afar, it is difficult to understand his excitement during the launch of a new Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) Centre at Mwembeshi Clinic. However, it takes a brief chat to reveal the reason behind Josphat Siachitemaâ€™s joy.
He danced to the amusement of other people who had gathered for the event he could only describe as a blessing.
â€œThe opening of this clinic is a blessing, I used to cover over 60 kilometres to Lusakaâ€™s Kanyama clinic every three months to get my drugs and access any other ART services,â€ Mr Siachitema says.
But now that the clinic has been opened, Mr Siachitema, 45, feels relieved and empowered.
â€œI disclosed my status the first day I found out I was HIV-positive. But this decision came with a lot of stigma even from my friends. I couldnâ€™t bear the thought of lying but the disclosure is a challenge sometimes,â€ Mr Siachitema says.
Mr Siachitema, of Mwembeshi area, says disclosing his status was his choice, and it helped him a lot in getting support from family and friends.
As if that was not enough, accessing ART service was also proving to be a challenge for him. Mr Siachitema, who tested positive to HIV 15 years ago, says accessing ART services was costly for him because of the distance he was covering.
â€œI get my refill from Kanyama clinic. The coming of this infrastructure here at Mwembeshi is a dream come true. It will help us access drugs [easily],â€ he said.
Funded by the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) of Japan, the Mwembeshi ART Centre was built at US$760,000.
AAR Japan is a non-governmental organisation whose objective is to extend emergency and long-term support to people in need of help.
Before the ART Centre was opened at a clinic, many people were scepitcal about knowing their HIV status and also shunned ART services.
Like many in his area, Mr Siachitema is fully aware that he will benefit greatly from the new ART clinic.
â€œAt first people were really negative in my community, calling me names, friends laughing at me when I go to the clinic, and making fun of me. They would just come to the clinic to see which room I will enter and ask if I am going to die. But with such a facility at the clinic, people will be educated about HIV and AIDS,â€ Mr Siachitema says.
Officiating at the handover of the ART clinic was Lusaka Province permanent secretary Wamunyina Muwana, who expressed concern that people were shunning ART due to lack of proper health facilities.
Mr Muwana said most people want to access ART services with a sense of confidentiality.
â€œThe challenge is not that there arenâ€™t enough facilities to provide ART services. The challenge is that as Government we need to ensure more infrastructure is put in place to cater for people needing these [services],â€ Mr Muwana said.
And Japanese ambassador to Zambia Kiyoshi Koinuma said the Mwembeshi Centre was built to ease the challenges that people face in accessing ART.
â€œFailure to access ART services has adverse effects on individuals and communities. I appeal to residents to jealously guard the infrastructure for them to derive maximum benefits from it,â€ Mr Koinuma said.
And Chilanga medical office ART coordinator Godfrey Zulu said Mwembeshi Health Centre provides services to over 12,000 people. He said 2,500 clients are on ART.
Mr Zulu says the involvement of various partners in empowering people living with HIV is vital if the disease burden was to be eased.
â€œThe facility will ease peopleâ€™s access to ART in Mwembeshi. Lots of things still need to be done, but engagement of the partners is powerful. They too can drive issues on reducing the disease burden forward. Like building infrastructure and in the issue of education and advocacy,â€ Mr Zulu said.
In Zambia, current HIV prevalence is 14.3 percent among adults aged 15-49.
The epidemic is gender-based with 16 percent of women aged 15-49 HIV positive compared to 12 percent of men aged 15-49 HIV positive.
Efforts to scale up access to ART have led to an increase in the number of HIV positive-eligible clients accessing Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) from approximately 3000 in 2004 to 285,000 in 2009 and double the number in 2009 for 2013.
Currently, it is estimated that there are over one million Zambians living with HIV and AIDS. The impact continues to infiltrate rural populations. And while access to treatment has improved, it is still estimated that over 75,000 Zambians die from HIV annually.
Greater efforts in prevention and treatment are paramount if Zambia is to reduce the incidences of HIV in the coming years.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka