Turning the tide in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes the 1st December as the World AIDS Day, a global public health campaign dedicated to raising awareness about AIDS spread by HIV.

Approximately 36.7 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS, 2016).

Of these, 2.1 million are children. An estimated 1.8 million individuals became newly infected with HIV in 2016, which equates to 5,000 new infections per day.

Although there was a decline in the HIV death rate between 2000 and 2015, African regions still account for almost two-thirds of the global total of new HIV infections. Africa is home to 25.6 million people with HIV (WHO, 2016).

Zimbabwe is one of the African countries that continue to have a large amount of its population living with HIV, an estimated 13 million people.

WHO reports that, due to access to antiretroviral treatment, the life expectancy in Zimbabwe has reached 61 years in 2015 compared to 41 years in 2003. In 2016, more than 49,000 deaths were averted comprising 393,000 prevented deaths since 2006.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) played a vital role in supporting countries most affected by the HIV epidemic by providing access to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) resources. Most recently US $502 million have been approved to support HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programmes in Zimbabwe during the next three years.

There are around 1.5 million people living with HIV in Kenya, around 400 000 of whom are unaware that they have the virus. With low testing rates, especially among men, people are not able to benefit from treatment.

In May 2017, the Government of Kenya has launched two innovative technologies to address the situation and bring ending the AIDS epidemic: self-testing for HIV and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an antiretroviral medicine, to prevent HIV infection.

The Be Self Sure campaign aimed to encourage people to get tested for HIV. As part of the campaign, the HIV self-test kits were made available through public and private health facilities and selected pharmacies.

“With the launch, Kenya becomes the first country to undertake a national roll-out of HIV self-testing and the second in Africa to bring to scale pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV infection for those at high risk.” – Jackson Kioko, Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health, Kenya

UNAIDS is working to prevent new HIV infections and to ensure that by 2020, 90% of Kenyans living with HIV know their status and 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing treatment. By achieving these targets, Kenya Gov’t believes it will be able to end its AIDS epidemic by 2030.

According to 2016 UNAIDS HIV/AIDS estimates, around 210,000 adults aged 15 and above live with HIV in Rwanda.  Of them, 120,000 are women and 85,000 are men. Children aged 0 to 14 living with HIV count for 11,000.

Over 80,000 people are on ARVs drugs, the USA, through PEPFAR, pays drugs for 94,000 people which represents 52%, according to the US Ambassador to Rwanda, Erica Barks-Ruggles.

Rwanda, like other African countries, trying to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals by 2020, by sensitizing public to know their status and to use condoms.

Meanwhile, according to UNICEF, only 49% of males and 43% of females know how to use condoms as one way to prevent new infections.

In Paris, doctors have announced a new generation cancer drug which might be an antidote for those living with HIV. The study has found that the drug, nivolumab, was able to reduce the amount of dormant HIV cells in the body thus improving patient’s immune response.

While advances in medicine and technology are changing the course of life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS in Africa, many people continue to face significant barriers to accessing healthcare services, including stigma, lack of awareness and funding.

Public awareness campaigns and measures to improve testing rates and encourage treatment need to continue in order to prevent the disease spreading further.

Ending HIV/AIDFS needs social not just medical breakthroughs and the governments have been advised to strengthen the healthcare systems and mechanisms to ensure that everyone has access to required health services and medicine.

The Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) will be hosting the 3rd annual Aid & Development Africa Summit on 27-28 February 2018 in Nairobi to share latest innovations and best practice in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases in East Africa.

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