By Michael Gwarisa
AT least 4.4 million people have been tested for the HIV/AIDS virus since inception of the New Start Center in 1999, a health official has said.
Briefing Journalists recently, a New Start Center official Dr Mawoni said they have witnessed an increase in the number of people coming for HIV testing over the years.
“It terms of HIV testing, since inception, we have tested an excess of 4 million people, that is 4.4 million since 1999. According to the Zimbabwe Population Based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA) that was conducted in 2015/16, it showed some good news. About 74% of people living with HIV in this country actually know their status. Zimbabwe has also adopted the 90-90-90 goal which says that world leaders and implementing partners agreed to end AIDS by 2030.
“To be able to do that, by 2030 we must be able to have 90% of people who have HIV knowing their status, and 90% of those that know their status are on treatment and then 90% of those that are on treatment, their viral load is suppressed,” said Mawoni.
She however added that, “there are some groups in the population that are lagging behind, we have got men and young people. They still experience lower levels of testing and nearly half of the young people between the ages of 15-24 who have HIV actually don’t know their status. So HIV testing then brings us an opportunity to reach those groups.”
The self testing project is currently under study as project funded by UNITEC and PSI is part of what we call STAR which is the name of the project under which self testing is running.
Meanwhile, the Population Services International (PSI) has intensified the rolling out of Pr-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) therapy to HIV negative individuals who are at great risk of contracting the HIV virus.
Speaking at the same event, PSI’s HIV Care and Treatment manager Emily Gwavava said PrEP came in as a new WHO recommendation which uses ARVs tablets which a person takes once a day to help prevent them from HIV.
“PrEP is an additional prevention strategy for people who are at a substantial risk of HIV. This however does not work on its own as a magic bullet but all the other strategies like condoms, VMMC, STI treatment and prevention all those other strategies work, PrEP is coming in as an addition.
“We are offering PrEP through our New Start network, the ministry has already adopted PrEP as a national program and PSI is currently at a demonstrating level just to see how feasible it is,” said Gwavava.
Meanwhile, Gwavava did not dismiss the possibility of side effects with the preventive ARV drugs.
“PrEP only works if you take it, but its not something that you take regularly like family planning tablets. You have to take it for at least seven days before you are at risk of HIV or before you have that exposure to HIV.
“If you feel the risk is no longer there you can discontinue taking. You need to however continue taking it for 28 days after the last exposure to the risk of HIV just to make sure you are safe. PrEP does not prevent against STIs, pregnancy and it has some minor side effects which include nausea, vomiting and 1 in every 200 get kidney complication but the good thing about it is that once you stop the drug, the problem will disappear,” said Gwavava.