31 July, 2015 19:10

UNAIDS says 23 babies born with HIV in Zambia daily

UNAIDS country coordinator Dr Medhin Tsehaiu says 23 babies are born HIV-positive in Zambia on a daily basis.

And Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL) chairperson Nathan Chanda Bwalya says Livingstone has the highest HIV prevalence rate of 25.3 compared to the national average of 13.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, National AIDS Council chairperson Dr George Tembo has urged councils to be innovative and raise funds for HIV mitigation instead of relying on donor funds.

Speaking at the opening of the 12th AMICAALL general assembly at Chrismar Hotel in Livingstone on Wednesday, Dr Tsehaiu said about 500,000 Zambians are ignorant about their HIV status or may have not started taking antiretroviral therapy.

“8,000 babies are born to HIV [positive] mothers annually, 23 babies are born HIV positive every day. This is a very important point to take note of and make sure that we reverse this situation. These infections could have been averted by effectively implementing the option B+, meaning that putting mothers on lifelong ART therapy,” she said.

Dr Tsehaiu added that despite the progress made in the mitigation of HIV in the last ten years, Zambia was still one of the top ten countries globally that contributes to the highest number of people living with HIV and was ranked seventh in the Eastern and Southern African region.

She said Zambia needs to implement the latest global antiretroviral fast track approach if it was to achieve a decline in new infections.

“I must state that the prevention of mother to child transmission is a low-hanging foot or that Zambia could achieve the target (elimination of mother-to-child transmission) by the end of 2015 if all of us do our part because it really requires leadership at all levels,” Dr Tsehaiu said.

She added that the Zambian Demographic Health Survey of 2013 indicates that HIV prevalence is highest on the Copperbelt at 18.2 per cent, followed by Lusaka with 16.2 per cent and Western Province at 15.4 per cent.

“UNAIDS places great importance on the role of local government as the key partner in the fight against HIV and AIDS and achieving the post 2015 sustainable developmental goals and advancing sustainable human development,” Dr Tsehaiu said.

She further added that in urban areas, HIV prevalence rates are at around 18 per cent and averaged nine per cent in the rural areas.

Dr Tsehaiu, however, said high levels of gender-based violence were impeding women from accessing HIV services.

“Principals of gender equality must be applied across the response and every effort must be made to reduce GBV and inequality at all levels,” said Dr Tsehaiu.

“This renewed vision of ending AIDS (by 2030)  still has some 15 years to run, but the next five years will determine whether we can end AIDS or not.”

And Bwalya said new infection rates among the youths were worrying.

He urged the local government leaders to look at strategies that would help reduce HIV among young people.

“I implore you to provide the leadership that is required in responding to this challenge. The leadership we need should be the leadership, for lack of better words, I will describe it as ‘positive infectious leadership’; a leadership that acts and lives with what it preaches. Let us ensure that we put in place projects and programmes that improve the lives of the people we have been elected to serve,” said Bwalya.

And Dr Tembo warned councils against being complacent as this would result in an increase of new HIV infections, especially amongst the youths.

He urged councils to work with the private sector in mitigating HIV.“HIV and AIDS needs to be a priority, we need a lot of advocacy to talk about HIV,” said Dr Tembo.

By Edwin Mbulo in Livingstone

The Post, Zambia

Also carried by Key Correspondents

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