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Southern Region tops on HIV prevalence

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By Rebecca Chimjeka:

JOBE—It is a wake-up call

The country’s Southern Region has high HIV prevalence rate as compared to the other regions, a 2019 first quarter National Aids Commission (Nac) preliminary report says.

According to the report, the region has an HIV prevalence rate of 12.8 percent which is more than the national prevalence rate of 8.8 percent.

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Central and Northern regions have 5.6 and 5.1 percent prevalence rate respectively.

The report reveals that Mulanje has a prevalence rate of 20.6 percent, which is double the national prevalence rate.

The prevalence among women in the district is at 10.8 percent while men are at 6.4 percent.

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According to the Nac report, Salima has recorded the lowest prevalence which is at 3.0 percent.

Nac HIV and Behaviour Change Management Director Andrina Mwamsambo said there are several factors that can be attributed to this situation such as urbanisation, which increases social interactions and industrialisation, for example, in tea estates and factories.

She pointed out that some cultural practices in the Southern Region are more risky and contribute to HIV transmission, adding natural disasters that mostly occur in the region and displace people contribute to susceptibility to HIV acquisition as the displaced people are desperate to make ends meet as well as low condom use among young people who are sexually active, especially in colleges which are many in the region.

She said there is need to increase uptake and correct and consistent condom use among sexually active individuals, increase uptake of voluntary medical male circumcision and intensify targeted HIV testing services including Self HIV testing to identify the positives and initiate them on treatment.

“There is need to increase coverage of HIV services among adolescent girls and young women and key populations, increase coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services, scale up implementation of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis and intensify development,” she said.

Health activist Maziko Matemba said the southern and eastern parts of Malawi have high HIV prevalence.

“That why more efforts are needed and also as a country we need to find out why the prevalence is that high,” he said.

Malawi Heath Equity Network Executive Director George Jobe said several factors need to be considered.

“When we look at the Southern Region in total and going to the district like Mulanje, we also see that it is one of the districts which should have been pushing the Southern Region to the top because 20.6 percent prevalence rate is very high,” he said.

Jobe said this is a wake-up call and there is a need to look at factors making HIV prevalence high.

According to UNAIDS data, Malawi is one of the countries with a high HIV prevalence rate in the world despite the impressive progress the country has made in controlling its HIV epidemic in recent years.

The data shows that young people are particularly at risk due to early sexual debut, with 50 percent of new HIV infections affecting those aged 15-24 in Malawi.

However, UNAIDS report says stigma remains a key barrier to progress, particularly among key populations such as men who have sex with men and female sex workers.

The data shows that Malawi is on track to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020, which include 90 percent of people with HIV knowing their status, 90 percent of these accessing ARVS and 90 percent of those on treatment being virally suppressed.

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