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Malawi faces HIV testing challenge

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PHALE—We have to do more

Malawi has been implementing rapid HIV testing services since early 2000. However, as WEZZIE GAUSI writes, some 20 years down the line, some people still take the process as ceremonial other than lifesaving.

Linda Nsangu, 49, from Kambwiri in Salima District, remembers the time she went for HIV test at Salima District Hospital.

“I went for testing on October 20 2002,” she said.

The mother of five has a reason for remembering the date vividly.

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“I tested HIV negative and have never gone for an HIV rapid test again. I am a faithful woman and, as such, I do not worry about catching HIV because chances of me catching the virus are slim.

“I am God-fearing, faithful and honest. Why should I go for HIV test again?” said Nsangu, who runs a second-hand clothes business.

It is the same case with Augustino Marten from Mng’ona Village, Traditional Authority Kamenyagwaza, Dedza.

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“I will never forget the day I went for HIV test, which is April 2 2004. It was rapid test, as was the norm in those days. I was very tense because I did not know how results would pan out.

“Thank God, I tested HIV negative and have never found a justifiable reason to go for the test again. I am fine,” said the private school teacher.

There are indications that HIV rapid, and other, tests are frowned upon in Malawi, sometimes for a good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

However, there are indications that even those who are HIV positive, knowingly or unknowingly, are not taking to testing centres as would have been expected.

This is what is reflected in 2020-21 Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment [MPHIA) findings, which indicate Malawi is lagging behind in meeting the target of ensuring that 95 percent of people living with HIV know their HIV status.

The MPHIA has, however, shown that the country has managed to ensure that 98 percent of people who know their status are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 97 percent of people are on treatment with suppressed viral loads.

In 2014, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ Aids launched the 95-95-95 targets aimed at diagnosing 95 percent of all HIV-positive individuals, providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to 95 percent of those diagnosed and achieving viral suppression for 95 percent of those treated by 2030.

Speaking in Lilongwe on Thursday during the 2022 Joint Annual Review of the National Response to HIV and Aids, National Aids Commission Board Chairperson Chipo Kanjo said inequalities and emerging pandemics such as Covid have contributed to low testing rates.

Kanjo said there is a need to earnestly continue focusing on national response efforts towards meeting all the targets.

“Our collective efforts with government leadership, resolute development partner support and the dedication of implementing partners, civil society organisations and all stakeholders are pivotal towards the success of the national response,” Kanjo said.

Deputy Minister of Health, Enock Phale, said the current HIV estimates are showing that there is a steady reduction in the number of new infections from around 84,000 in 2002 to about 17,600 in 2022.

He said there has been a steady decline in the number of people dying of Aids-related illnesses from about 77,300 in 2002 to around 12,000 in 2022, representing an 84 percent decline.

“These achievements are a lot of work but, still, we have to do more in order to further reduce the rate of new infections and Aids-related deaths in line with our national and global targets toward the goal of ending Aids as a public health threat by the year 2030,” Phale said.

However, success in Malawi’s HIV and Aids response programmes hinges on service providers’ ability to entice people to HIV testing centres, too. Otherwise, many people will continue to live ignorantly while HIV testing gadgets are lying idle in testing centres

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