The government wants to put all people living with HIV on treatment upon testing positive, head of Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Owen Mugurungi, has said. Previously, only those with a CD4 count of less than 500 were put on treatment. Speaking to journalists yesterday during a health talk on the country’s position towards implementing the new World Health Organisation guidelines on treatment of HIV, officially launched at the just ended International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA), Dr Mugurungi said the government was also considering giving antiretroviral drugs to HIV negative people at high risk of contracting HIV as a prevention method.
“The challenge for us is not only the resources to be able to provide treatment to all those in need, but also to get people tested so that they know their status and be put on treatment,” said Dr Mugurungi.
He said according to recent national HIV estimates, there were approximately 1,5 million people living with HIV of which 850,000 were on treatment against 1,2 million in urgent need of ARVs. Dr Mugurungi said the new guidelines would then translate to providing ARVs to all HIV positive people.
“We now need to look at how we implement these new guidelines in Zimbabwe,” said Dr Mugurungi.
He said the government would also relook into the epidemic data for Zimbabwe to assess who was at high risk of getting HIV for prevention treatment.
“We’ll seriously be considering post exposure prophylaxis (Prep) targeting people at great risk. That means we’ve to relook into our data to see who’s at high risk,” said Dr Mugurungi.
He said to ensure that most people knew their status; the government would have to move away from institutionalising HIV testing and counselling to getting the services to the people through HIV self testing and or door-to-door voluntary testing and counselling.
“We must change the way we’ve been doing our testing to ensure that many of our people know their HIV status. We’ve been relying on the people coming to our facilities, but now we need to be going in schools, churches, market places and of course homes,” said Dr Mugurungi.
Speaking at the same occasion, the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV executive director, Muchanyara Mukamuri, said the ‘test and treat’ guidelines were the way to go for treatment of HIV.
Mukamuri, however, emphasised the need for strengthening of community involvement before implementation of the guidelines to ensure people have full understanding. She said the government should also scale up adherence support to ensure that all those put on ART adhered to treatment to avoid resistance.
HIV and Aids advocate, Chamunorwa Mashoko, who also spoke at the meeting also urged the government to increase domestic funding to reduce the funding gap in making ARVs available to all.
He said the contribution from development partners should also be direct support to areas of need instead of technical assistance.
In its 2016 guidelines on treatment and prevention of HIV, the WHO recommended countries to put all people tested HIV positive on antiretroviral drugs despite their CD4 count and secondly that countries should use HIV treatment as a prevention choice for people at high risk of contracting HIV such as commercial sex workers.
The health talk was facilitated by the Health Journalists Association of Zimbabwe in partnership with AVAC- an international organisation involved in simplifying science for the ordinary people.