THE launch of the mandatory HIV Testing, Counselling and Treatment (HTCT), has been received with mixed reactions across Zambia.
There are some people who have welcomed it as the way to go to win the fight against HIV and AIDS, but there are some who are uncomfortably anxious about the measure.
This is particularly so on Government’s decision to compel patients to undertake an HIV test for medical experts to make informed decisions on what remedies to prescribe. This is a milestone in the country’s response to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The HTCT, which has replaced what was traditionally commemorated as the national Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Day, has underscored Government’s commitment.
President Lungu said during the launch of the HTCT on Tuesday that Government has embarked on a transformative shift from emphasising voluntary counselling and testing to HIV testing and treatment.
This bold decision prioritises HIV testing and immediate commencement and retention of anti-retroviral treatment of all Zambians living with the virus that causes AIDS.
Like President Lungu emphasised, health authorities in the country will no longer wait for people to fall sick before they can put them on life-saving treatment. Under the new arrangement, Government is taking integrated health services, including HIV testing and treatment, to the communities.
In the past, people who were diagnosed with HIV had to wait until their CD4 count (immune system) was below 200 – and were at risk of getting opportunistic infections – to commence antiretroviral treatment.
Many of such people died because they could not respond to treatment while others failed to deal with toxins because their internal organs were already weak.
The measure announced by President Lungu on Monday is designed to consolidate the gains the country has achieved so far in the fight against HIV infections.
HIV prevalence in Zambia has declined steeply over the years, falling by 19 percent between 2003 and 2015.
However, there are around 1.2 million people in Zambia living with HIV.
Since the first case of HIV was confirmed in Zambia in 1984, about one million Zambians have died, mainly those in the productive age, while 1.2 million are living with the virus but are still productive.
That is the official figure, but Government wants to do more for its people, hence the need to know and plan effectively.
This country has an ambitious target of eliminating new HIV infections by 2030, the same year when we hope to attain the status of a prosperous middle-income country.
To achieve that status, we should aspire to reduce new infections drastically.
It is no longer a secret that the HIV/AIDS scourge has continued to pose one of the biggest threats to our country’s development.
With new strategy announced by President Lungu on Monday, the country expects to have more healthy and, therefore, more productive citizens.
This is because when an HIV-infected person embarks on treatment before it matures into AIDS, the ART will protect them from infecting their partner and re-infecting oneself.
This is why the new measure announced by President Lungu is a milestone in the country’s response to HIV and AIDS.