25 July 2014

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‘Be proactive, sensitise subjects on HIV/AIDS’

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Chiefs in Zambia command a lot of respect and could therefore serve as catalysts of change in the lives of the people, especially in their sexual behaviours. This has prompted government to undertake plans to incorporate traditional leaders in the fight against paediatric HIV/ AIDS. CHRISTINE CHISHA reports:
THIRTY years ago, children and mothers were not even part of conversation on HIV/AIDS. Today, however, more and more leaders and communities around the world are talking about an AIDS-free generation.
There is widespread agreement that the world could get to zero new HIV infections in children, and keep mothers and their children alive and safe.
Zambia has about 980,000 people living with HIV, of those 120,000 are children under the age of 15 years.
During a recent cocktail party organised by the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Nkandu Luo urged traditional leaders to play a more proactive role by sensitising their subjects about the epidemic.

She said this was because chiefdoms have not been spared from the effects of AIDS.
Professor Luo said government would soon appoint some chiefs who would be ambassadors to help in sensitising Zambians on HIV and AIDS.
She said chiefs would also play a role in curbing early child marriages.
“Traditional leaders should take a leading role in the fight against HIV/AIDS by sensitising their subjects in their respective chiefdoms on the dangers of the pandemic,” Professor Luo said.
She said Government is concerned that the epidemic has continued to rob the country of skilled human resource adding that there is need for all stakeholders, including chiefs, to play a role.
Prof Luo said the pandemic if left unchecked would have a negative impact on national development by reversing the economic gains the country has recorded in the recent past.
“The fight against the epidemic needs concerted effort that is the reason we need to engage traditional leaders because they are custodians of human capital,” she said.
Prof Luo also assured organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS-related programmes in the country of government’s support.
Elizabeth Glaser paediatric AIDS Foundation president Charles Lyons said over the past 10 years, there has been a dramatic scale-up of HIV prevention, care and treatment programmes led by initiatives like the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund and the commitment of other donor countries.
He said tremendous commitment of national governments and ministries of health has also increased.
“Commitment extends down to individual health care workers, community leaders, mothers and families to eliminate HIV/AIDS.
“The introduction of rapid syphilis testing for pregnant women would not have been possible without the leadership of Zambia’s Ministry of Health and political leaders,” Mr Lyons said.
Elizabeth Glaser paediatric AIDS Foundation Zambia participated in a global study to show the feasibility of integrating rapid syphilis testing of PMTCT services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of syphilis along with stopping transmission of HIV.
Mr Lyons said Zambia is seen as an important player along with the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) for dual elimination of mother to children transmission of HIV and syphilis.
He said Elizabeth Glaser paediatric AIDS Foundation has a roadmap to end paediatric HIV/AIDS and also accountable measures to ensure that highest burden countries stay on track for the 2015 goals and beyond.
“We will not get to an AIDS-free generation without strong political will and country leadership,” he said.
Political will and leadership are increasingly considered key contextual influences on the outcomes of HIV/AIDS programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
A number of debates tend to focus on the role of national leadership in shaping responses to the epidemic, with little attention to local leaders. Yet many of the settings in which HIV/AIDS flourishes are geographically distant from the reach of national leadership and policies
And Elizabeth Glaser paediatric AIDS Foundation country director Susan Stresser pledged her organisation’s continued financial and technical support to government.
Dr Stresser said Zambia’s political leaders have been invaluable partners as they are collaborative, responsive and flexible with an eye toward getting the job done.

 

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