ZIMBABWE today joined the rest of the world in observing the World AIDS Day (WAD) at a time the country is reported to have made significant strides towards HIV epidemic control.
By Michael Gwarisa
The WAD 2020 commemorations were held under the theme “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility,” and were held in Harare at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) under strict COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
Speaking during the WAD commemorations, Health and Child Care minister, Vice President Constatino Chiwenga said he was pleased to note that Zimbabwe had registered significant progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
I am elated to announce to you today that Zimbabwe is now closer than ever to the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. It is my singular honour to share with you for the first time, the encouraging results of our recently held Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA 2020). As you are all aware, our efforts in combating HIV are measured in the context of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 Global targets.
“In this regard, on the first 90, I am happy to inform you that 86.8% of people living with HIV in Zimbabwe now know their status. This is a 10% increase from 76.8% recorded in the previous survey in 2015. I am also happy to inform you that 97% of people living with HIV are now on lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is quite an improvement from the previous 88.4% recorded in the last ZIMPHIA,” said Dr Chiwenga.
He added that those on antiretroviral therapy, 90.3% of them have achieved viral load suppression, compared to 85.3% in the previous survey.
“This is a true testimony of the progress we have made and that we are in the right direction towards epidemic control through the evidence-based approaches that we have been implementing over the past years. Such impressive results should then pave way for us a nation to formally aim now for the 95-95-95 targets by 2030.
“ZIMPHIA 2020, ladies and gentlemen, was led by the Government of Zimbabwe through my ministry with funding from the United States (US) President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and through technical assistance and partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ZIMPHIA 2020 was implemented by ICAP at Columbia University.”
Zimbabwe National Aids Council (NAC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Bernard Madzima said they managed to link both HIV and COVID-19 during the lockdown period in bid to ensure the country does not lose out on the gains that have been attained to date.
“This year’s commemorations we have a theme “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.” This theme calls upon people and other nations to unite in the response to HIV and other related epidemics. Its relevance is anchored on the emergence of other diseases like COVID-19 whose combined impact with HIV is global therefore in such situations, we need solidarity and responsibility across the globe.
“Through COVID-19, we have learnt that no one is safe until everyone is safe. In response to this reality, and as absolved by the World Aids Day theme, the National AIDS Council at the start of the epidemic deployed resources of various kinds throughout the country ranging from financial, human and technical to support the government in the COVID019 response. We tried to link as much as possible HIV and COVID-19 with a huge focus on awareness, prevention and ensuring access to treatment especially Antiretroviral drugs for our clients who faced disruptions during the lockdown,” said Dr Madzima.
Dr Madzima added that the country had made significant progress in putting people living with HIV on treatment over the years and latest results from the ZIMPHIA survey were testimony to the progress Zimbabwe has made in managing the epidemic.
“Zimbabwe has really done well in terms of the HIV and AIDS response. Out of 1.3 Million people living with HIV, nearly 1.2 Million people are on treatment. The HIV prevalence rate declined and has been declining over the years from a high 13.79% between 2015 12.78% in 2019, taking us closer to achieving the 90-90-90 targets.
“The percentage of people living with HIV who know their status has reached 90% while treatment coverage has reached over 90%. We estimate that 20 000 Zimbabweans will be infected by HIV in 2020. The eventual ending of AIDS requires by 2030 requires bold leadership and we are also aligned to that requirement as the coordinator of the HIV response in Zimbabwe. In this regard, we aim to reduce new infections by 80% by 2025, reduce AIDS deaths by 80% by 2025 and to attain Zero stigma discrimination.”
Meanwhile, in his solidarity speech, United States (US) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Brian Nichols said the US government will provide US$230 Million to Zimbabwe to strengthen health systems and local capacity to prevent HIV and AIDS.
“17 years ago, when PEPFAR began, HIV was death sentence in Zimbabwe and many other parts of world. Now for the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to control the epidemic without a vaccine or cure. For this coming year, the US government has committed more than US$230 Million to Zimbabwe, to strengthen health systems and expand local capacity to prevent HIV and maintain epidemic control.
“Cumulatively, the US government through PEPFAR has invested over US$1.3 Billion in Zimbabwe since 2006 in support of these efforts. With great progress comes great scrutiny. Zimbabwe’s success will never leave the spotlight of the country’s efforts, people ask if HIV epidemic control is real. Tragically, despite all that we have accomplished, there is still more than 31 000 new HIV infections in Zimbabwe every year. We cannot afford to rest,” said Ambassador Nichols.