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Government fails to roll out universal HIV treatment

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The Ministry of Health will not implement the long awaited universal Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs eligibility this month as earlier stated, The Daily Times has learnt.

Early this year, the ministry promised to roll out treatment for all people living with HIV regardless of their CD4 count, as per new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

In September last year, WHO announced that ART should be initiated to everyone living with HIV at any CD4 count and that pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep) should be administered as a prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV infection as part of prevention approaches.

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Studies have shown that beginning Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) immediately after being diagnosed with HIV has some health benefits for the individual including delaying the time of Aids events, death and tuberculosis.

Ministry of Health spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe confirmed this development saying the ministry needs more time to do capacity building and strengthen human resources.

“When at least two ART providers are trained at a facility, the facility will be able to start. To train health workers and prepare all 730 sites will take up to six months. But once implementation starts, it will be effected in all districts of the country,” he explained.

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Chikumbe, however, said the HIV treatment guidelines, which will allow this to happen, are ready and will be presented to the ministry’s senior management at their next meeting for their endorsement.

“At the moment some ground work has already started in anticipation of the approval of the guidelines such as development of communication materials,” he said.

The ministry has also disclosed that Malawi government will implement universal eligibility with the support of Global Fund, US President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief (Pepfar) and their implementing partners.

Health activists have expressed worry over the change saying government has breached people’s trust as they had hope in this programme.

Executive Director for Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) George Jobe said rolling of ARVs for everyone who is living with HIV is very important and should have been treated as such.

“The announcement that this will begin in April gave hope to many Malawians. Now that they want people to wait a little longer, the ministry should have given a proper explanation as this is a very critical issue,” he said.

Executive Director for Health and Rights Education Programme, Maziko Matemba noted that this is an expensive move but it is very necessary that Malawi should have one.

“People obviously had many expectations and this is very disappointing news. Government has the obligation to provide the health needs of all Malawians,” he said.

According to Ministry of Health, Malawi has one million people living with HIV and half of them are on ART courtesy of the Global Fund.

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