Pamela Shumba, Senior Reporter
THE Ministry of Health and Child Care has launched a $103 million national HIV Testing Services Strategy to improve testing coverage in the country and prevent new infections.
The strategy, which will run from 2017 to 2020, was launched at Nketa clinic in Bulawayo on Friday, with the Minister of State for Bulawayo provincial affairs Cde Nomthandazo Eunice Moyo emphasising the importance of testing for HIV.
It was launched under the theme ‘closing the tap of new HIV infections’.
“I’m excited about this strategy, which is a robust document with evidence based approaches. It’s a culmination of extensive research, hard work and dedication by the team that has produced this document with a lot of input from all the provinces.
“The strategy has a lot of continued best practices from the previous strategy such as provider initiated counselling and testing and community based counselling and testing. It also has innovative approaches such as HIV self testing, where people can test themselves in the comfort of their own homes,” said Minister Moyo.
She, however, bemoaned the low HIV testing coverage which stands at 74 percent while half of the adolescents in the country do not know their status.
Minister Moyo said Zimbabwe was among countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates estimated at 13.7 percent down from 29 percent in 1999.
“We still need to continue to put our heads together and bring down these figures and HIV testing is the entry point to all our HIV services.
“When people don’t know their HIV status they can’t access any of the innovative and the comprehensive life saving services that we have in the country.
“I’m appealing to the private sector to work with Government in the implementation of this strategy so that we’re able to meet our targets,” said Minister Moyo.
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Martin Moyo described the new strategy as a critical road map in enhancing HIV prevention, adding that the city council was glad to be part of a programme that promotes good health.
“Our vision of excellence in local governance embraces the creation of a healthy community which enjoys good health as a basic human right.
“To this end, we offer accessible, efficient and affordable essential health services with the participation of the community and in collaboration with critical stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health and Child Care,” said Cllr Moyo.
He said for the strategy to succeed, it was important for the country to adopt a multi sectorial approach where all partners are actively involved.
“Our objective is to close the tap of new HIV infections and today we take the first step of this journey. The testing strategy will go a long way in promoting HIV testing by establishing various options of how one can be tested for HIV,” said Cllr Moyo.
Health Ministry’s national HIV prevention coordinator Mrs Getrude Ncube said the new strategy takes into cognisance the fact that people are different hence the ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work.
“In this document we have identified priority and key populations that we should target for testing and we need to come up with strategies to persuade them to test for HIV.
“These include infants and children, adolescents, couples and sexual partners, sex workers, prisoners, truck drivers and all that are at risk of contracting HIV,” said Mrs Ncube.
She said the strategy was not about testing alone but ensuring partner disclosure, condom distribution and anti-retroviral treatment initiation.