HIV and AIDS is slowly becoming an ageing issue in Zimbabwe with indications that majority of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) are those above the age of 50 and are at greater risk of developing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
By Michael Gwarisa
Even though the country has been recording a number of new infections amongst young girls and women, the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) has raised concern over the concentration of PLHIV and ART clients in the 50 and above age range and called for the integration of Hypertension, diabetes, cancers amongst other NCDs into the national HIV response.
Speaking during the launch of Zimbabwe’s Informal Economy HIV and AIDS Strategy (2022-2025), Dr Chiedza Mupanguri, the National ART Coordinator in Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) said
Many of our patients now are ageing because of ARVs, we have less children on ART. Most of the patients are actually above 50 who are on ART and so it means that we really need to look at issues such as diabetes, hypertension that affects the aged to integrate it with HIV because of this picture,” said Dr Mupanguri.
According to experts, people with HIV are more likely to have type 2 diabetes and some HIV medicines may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in people with HIV.
Zimbabwe commenced its ART program in 2004 with only 11,000 patients on ART. However, of 2022, Zimbabwe is currently on 1.188 million people on ART following the decentralisation of ART treatment to across all corners of the country. When the ART program commenced in 2004, only seven sites were giving treatment compared to the 1,647 sites that are giving ARVs to date.
“Most of our patients who are on ART are looked at the Primary Healthcare facility. Most of them, about 7.8% get their medications from the clinics. We have about 460 patients on third line antiretroviral medicines.”
She however added that children were lagging behind in terms of HIV treatment despite numerous efforts that have been put in place to initiate children on ART.
“For 2021, for people living with HIV who know their status, we are at 91.8 percent. Of those who know their status, 98.5 percent are on treatment and for those who are treatment, 93.2 percent are virally suppressed. We are almost achieving epidemic control as a country and we are doing well in terms of HIV response.
“Whilst in adults we are at 92-98 and 93, in children unfortunately, we have 74.8 percent of our children who know their status compared to adults who have 92.8 percent. We have children out there who have not gone for testing and who don’t know their status. Fortunately of those who know their status, 100 percent are on treatment and 79.3 percent are virally suppressed.”
To improve uptake of ART by children, the ministry health in collaboration with partners have since rolled out child friendly medicines for neonates and children such as Dolutegravir (DTG) which tastes better for children and is taken once a day. They are also doing IEC material in local languages to improve treatment literacy as well training of healthcare workers on the new medicines.
HIV patients who are on ART are monitored using viral load after every six months after starting ART and then yearly for life. However, Zimbabwe has been having challenges conducting viral load testing due to the absence of enough viral load reagents due to financial challenges.