MAINTAIN THE FIGHT

Zambia 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: WINNING THE WAR ON AIDS

The campaign to combat HIV infection in Zambia continues unabated through a combination of local and international initiatives.

A report released by The Global Fund in October 2013 claimed that HIV was the “leading cause of death for all ages" in Zambia. Although the percentage of the population infected has decreased in recent years, HIV/AIDS is still an overwhelming threat to Zambia, both socially and economically. There have, however, been several attempts to improve the situation and ensure that HIV ceases to have such a significant impact on Zambia's population. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs have been made more readily available through a mixture of government initiative, international input, and support from the local community. Education is being improved and awareness levels have been raised among people of every part of society through community events and healthcare programs. However, rural citizens have much less access to information, while other “high exposure" members of society still need more support.

CONTINUING CONCERN

In 2012, AVERT reported that 12.7% of Zambia's adult population had HIV, with some 1.1 million infected throughout the country. This is still a concerning figure. UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Jan Beagle said in 2013, “The AIDS response in Zambia is at a tipping point and now is not the time to become complacent about HIV, but to build on the significant gains achieved." The UNAIDS report on Zambia in 2010 claimed that there had been a 25% decrease in HIV incidence over the preceding decade, a demonstration that progress had been, and is continuing to be, made.

However, mother-to-child transfer incidences are still alarmingly high, and the number of cases of young men and women infected continues to be a concern. From an economic perspective, the increase in the number of HIV cases and an increase in poverty work hand in hand, each one affecting the other. HIV has continued to be a detriment to Zambia in a multitude of ways, but efforts have been stepped up to raise awareness among the populace and raise funds for treatment and testing.

THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Significant progress has been made in providing access to antiretroviral drugs. Zambia was one of the first countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide universal access to ARV drugs. Universal access is defined as 80% or more of the people who are eligible for treatment, and in 2013 Zambia provided treatment for more than 90% of adults who were eligible. Support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM) has been fundamental to moving Zambia in the right direction. GFATM's $156 million agreement with Zambia in 2013 has delivered the opportunity to provide ARV treatment and HIV testing to a higher percentage of people, as well as address concerns such as mother-to-child transmittance and increased male circumcision.

There has also been progress in other areas, especially in youth education. The 88th Agricultural and Commercial Show of Zambia, held in July and August 2014 in Lusaka, was attended by over 80,000 young Zambians. Musicians delivered messages regarding sexual health and safety, and in association with the Condomize! campaign, there were 120,000 condoms distributed on the day to support the educational lessons that were provided. Over 1,000 people received counseling and testing over the course of the event, and 2,200 new members joined the Zambia U-report SMS platform, an initiative launched by the UN's Children's Fund that gives advice on HIV and AIDS to people via SMS. With the youth of Zambia becoming a focus, attitudes toward the importance of sexual health are clearly improving throughout the country.

THE NEXT STEP

Improving community awareness and social support are fundamental not only in helping those who have already been affected, whether directly or indirectly, but also in preventing as many people as possible from being affected in the future. ARV treatment is becoming more and more accessible, but it is fundamental that access continues to be distributed in order to continue the progress that has been made. In some areas, immunity to ARVs has developed as treatment has been stopped prematurely, either as a result of ignorance or, most usually, because of supply being halted. As a result, it is critical not only that distribution continues, but also that awareness levels are raised so that ARVs are used correctly. Access to information is a primary issue in Zambia and, if positive steps are to be made, the importance of sexual health education must be promoted and improved.