NAC In Drive To Scale Up HIV Treatment And Testing Coverage In Males

THE National AIDS Council in Zimbabwe (NAC), has devised a number of strategies to bring men and boys on board, with the aim of increasing HIV treatment and testing coverage in males.

By Michael Gwarisa

The development comes in the midst of indications that globally, men continue to lag behind across the HIV testing and treatment continuum. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) special analysis of 2021, globally, the testing and treatment targets for 2020 were almost reached among adult women (15 years and older) living with HIV, however, Men living with HIV, are consistently faring worse than women in terms of treatment and testing.

Compared to women living with HIV, the UNAIDS 2021 analysis added that there are 740 000 more men living with HIV who do not know their HIV status, 1.3 million more men who are not on treatment and 920 000 more men who are not virally suppressed.

Speaking to HealthTimes, the NAC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Bernard Madzima said their plan is to reach more men in the coming years as the country aims to attain the global targets of ending AIDS by the year 2030.

It’s true that men lag behind in terms of health seeking behavior in general and in terms of knowing their status and in terms of many other health indicators. It’s a general trend that men’s health seeking behavior compared to women is behind. As NAC, in terms of the HIV indicators, one of them which is testing, we have specific programs designed for men to make sure that they get tested and we even start at the lowest level of young boys,” said Dr Madzima.

NAC is currently implementing the Brother to Brother model where amongst many preventive methods, they ensure that boys don’t get infected with HIV and they are encouraged to get tested.

“We also encourage men to partner their women when they go for Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programmes so that they know their status because they are the ones who are responsible for the pregnancy and everything. Male participation in PMTCT is key. We also have Workplace HIV programmes where we encourage men to also get tested. The idea is to get them where they normally congregate. We also work with other organisations like Padare, we support them to mainstream the HIV testing and access to services.

“NAC also supports sports, through sport, we engage men. Recently, we supported the
NAC Golf tournament and one of the things which we then offer during such tournaments
is awareness, we also offer HIV testing and link people to care if there is need. 
So we try and use those platforms to encourage men to be tested for HIV.”

Besides the Brother to Brother program, NAC is also implementing the Male Engagement model where they have a peer to peer model  in which they use other men to influence their peers through engaging with them in places where they normally congregate.

“These can be in places where there is football matches, beer halls, in the mines, we know there is the Makorokoza now. We try to use their peers to give them information and also hopefully encourage them to be tested. We have a whole lot of measures which we try to use to engage males so that they are tested and the numbers improve. There is also Moonlighting where we go to places like Night Clubs and our staff try and engage them during the time they will be in the clubs to offer them information and also counseling and testing.”

According to the UNAIDS, while gender norms that prize male strength and stoicism may partly explain why many men delay seeking care, other factors are also at play for example, Primary health-care services in eastern and southern Africa place a great deal of focus on women of reproductive age, and reproductive, maternal and child health services offer ideal entry points for HIV services; similar entry points for men are not commonplace.

Interventions to reach and include men more successfully in HIV testing and treatment services are increasing—including through workplace-based interventions and greater use of self-testing approaches, and by providing services at outpatient departments—but a more finely-tuned understanding of why men’s use of HIV services continues to lag can help shape additional ways to close this gap.



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