Zimbabwe is among the first countries to mobilise resources nationally through its Aids levy to fight HIV/Aids. The country which has an estimated 1,4 million people living with HIV, has managed to put more than 800 000 people on antiretroviral treatment. This means about half of the people infected with the deadly virus are not on life-saving medication.
Children and pregnant women who test HIV positive as well as other adults whose CD4 count is 500 or less are immediately put on ART. An individual who is HIV positive but his or her partner is HIV negative is also put on ART immediately regardless of his or her CD4 count.
Government’s endeavour is to put all HIV positive people on ART but the major challenge is lack of resources.
It is therefore pleasing to learn that a pilot project to initiate everyone who tests HIV positive on ART has started in the four districts of the country.
According to a story we published on Tuesday, Gwanda, Bulilima and Mangwe are among the four districts in the country that have been chosen for this pilot project. Under the programme dubbed Treat All Initiative, people who test HIV positive are immediately put on ART regardless of their CD4 count.
Gwanda District Medical Officer Dr Andrew Felix Muza said the district started implementing the pilot project last week. He said all hospitals, clinics and rural health centres in the pilot districts were now offering HIV Care and Treatment Services. He said all people living with HIV should visit their nearest health institutions so that they are immediately put on ART. Those that have not been tested should also take advantage of this pilot project to get tested so that those found positive can be put on ART.
There is increasing evidence that earlier ART initiation reduces HIV transmission, HIV related illnesses and deaths. Art can keep people with HIV healthy for many years and adhering to treatment greatly reduces the chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners. The success of the pilot project in the four districts depends on the response from members of the public.
It is therefore incumbent upon each and every citizen in each of the districts to ensure he or she goes for HIV tests. It is not in anybody’s interest to delay HIV treatment hence the need for all Zimbabweans to know their status. The spread of HIV can only be stopped if those already infected behave responsibly and also seek treatment early.
According to statistics, more than 500 000 Zimbabweans died of HIV/Aids related illnesses during the past 16 years. It is our hope that the programme to put on ART everyone who tests HIV positive will soon spread to other districts so that no single Zimbabwean that tests positive to HIV is left out. What this means is that the country should mobilise adequate resources to meet the increased demand for ARVs.
Government alone might not be able to mobilise the required resources and we want at this juncture to appeal to non- governmental organisations to complement government efforts to fight the Aids scourge.
We acknowledge the tremendous work that NGOs are already doing to assist government to fight the pandemic but we believe they could do more. Government needs to stock adequate drugs to ensure once the people are put on ART, health institutions do not run out of drugs.
There are reports of people that have stopped taking ARVs after being frustrated by unavailability of these drugs at health institutions in their respective areas. We want to implore health officials and NGOS involved in HIV/Aids programmes to step up their education campaigns.
People should know that an HIV positive person can live a healthy life once put on ART early. The case of Gweru man who on Wednesday committed suicide after testing HIV positive is a confirmation that some people lack information.