Gender Gender

Is AIDS-free society feasible in Zambia?

FIRST Lady Esther Lungu with Juliet Makokwa (right), who has been living with HIV, during a tour of Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Clinic in Livingstone yesterday. PICTURE: THOMAS NSAMA/STATE HOUSE

MUMBA MWANSA, Livingstone
LUCKY is a family man with two children aged four and seven years respectively. He has been married to Juliet for eight years, and he has been living with HIV for over six months now, whilst Juliet is HIV-negative.
Meanwhile, Juliet is planning to get pregnant again and she is so hopeful and determined not to have a child born with HIV. Hence health personnel have had to counsel the couple on how they could help prevent the spread of the disease both to their children and to other members of the public.
One of the options the couple has been given is for Juliet to be on the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment, which requires her to take daily medication of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs as they help prevent HIV infection.
With such a scenario, assistant director for child health and nutrition in the Ministry of Health Patricia Mupeta Bobo says PrEP is given to people who find themselves in risky situations but are HIV-negative.
“When you are negative, you start the medication until such a time when that risk is over. So this means one has to take the medication daily for as long as they are in a risky situation which could lead to contracting the virus,” Dr Bobo explained.
She said PrEP uses the same principle as the one in malaria, where a person going to a high malaria-prone area is required to take the anti-malaria drugs before embarking on the journey as this helps the body to fight the malaria virus, if they were to get into contact with it.
Dr Bobo, however, emphasises that PrEP is not to be taken as a one-off as those on this treatment are required to adhere to the specifications given, if they are to attain the best results of preventing HIV infection.
Like is the situation for Lucky and Juliet, she needs PrEP because she is in a risky situation where there is need to ensure that she does not get HIV and also so that she can still bare children who are HIV-free.
This is one of the measures that the Ministry of Health recently introduced in a bid to achieve the sustainable development goal on having good health and well-being, by committing to end the epidemic of AIDS by 2030.
Therefore, in supplementing Government’s efforts to have a future generation free of AIDS, First Lady Esther Lungu has committed herself to ensure that the spread of HIV is suppressed in children whilst also helping to keep their mothers healthy.
Mrs Lungu is doing so through the launch of two campaigns – ‘Free to Shine’ and ‘Zambia Ending AIDS’ – in Livingstone today.
The First Lady said the intertwined campaigns have a similar objective of fighting HIV and AIDS in both Zambia and Africa at large.
This campaign is an initiative of African First Ladies mooted during the 20th ordinary General Assembly of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), with an aim to end childhood AIDS and keep the mothers healthy as part of their contribution towards the global goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
According to the Ministry of Health, in Zambia childhood or paediatric AIDS focuses mainly on children from zero to 14 years. Out of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in Zambia, 80,000 are children within this age group. In 2017, new paediatric HIV infections were estimated at 7,300, with 90 percent of these acquired through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).
The ministry notes that with regard to MTCT, less than four in every 100 children born from mothers living with HIV get infected at two months. However, this number increases to 10 in every 100 by two years of age (when the last HIV test is done at the end of the breastfeeding period). Early infant diagnosis is low, with only 46 percent of children born from HIV-infected mothers receiving this important test.
With Zambia still recording such alarming statistics, the First Lady, Mrs Lungu, is confident that this campaign will help to raise awareness of the HIV epidemic in children and the need to prioritise children and mothers to ensure that success achieved in reducing infections are extended to this vulnerable group.
The campaign will also give an increased understanding of how to prevent HIV and AIDS in childhood by keeping mothers healthy, preventing mother-to-child transmission and ensuring fast and effective identification and treatment of HIV-infected children.
The Zambia Ending AIDS brand and campaign was designed with the goal of supporting communication and advocacy in Zambia’s efforts to achieve prevention of the HIV epidemic by 2020; sustain HIV epidemic control beyond 2020; and incrementally make gains towards ending AIDS and towards a future without HIV.
The Ministry of Health states that this campaign aims to move away from HIV campaign fatigue and re-ignite the focus on HIV prevention, using end-user and other insights from the Human Centred Design study conducted by DISCOVER and other studies.
Zambia Ending AIDS is anchored on taking control to end AIDS, respecting self and others, making a difference and on communicating the fact that individually and collectively, we have a role to play in ending AIDS.
With this campaign, the ministry seeks to raise awareness about HIV risk and the HIV prevention products and services available, as well as generate demand for HIV prevention products and services available, emphasising choice to meet the user’s needs and circumstances.
The programme also aims to educate users on how to effectively access and use products and services, and empower healthcare workers to be an ally and facilitator in generating demand and to show empathy and respect in service delivery.
Therefore, the intertwined campaigns – Free to Shine and Zambia Ending AIDS – will definitely be a good move for Zambia to attain an AIDS-free future generation.

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