Mukudzei Chingwere-Herald Reporter
Zimbabwe is committed to improving the lives of people living with HIV and Aids, as well as ending new infections, Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Constantino Chiwenga said during the third quarter virtual meeting of the national validation committee on the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
Representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF were in attendance.
“My Ministry is an early adopter of innovations that improve the quality of life for people living with HIV, and I am happy to note that Zimbabwe is a forerunner in the region, with regards to the introduction of child-friendly formulations of anti-retrovirals for treatment of HIV-positive children,” said VP Chiwenga.
“In this quarter, we are excited to report on the successful introduction of paediatric Dolutegravir 10mgs for treating HIV positive children, who weigh between 3kg and 20kg. This will be a game changer in improving HIV viral load suppression rates.
“As a country, we have already been initiating adults living with HIV on Dolutegravir 50mg tablets as part of a triple regimen for the first line, and children less than 20kg had been left behind.”
VP Chiwenga said concerted efforts continue to be made to roll-out the electronic health record data system that allows accurate data on mother-baby pairs throughout the continuum of care, including tracking of final HIV status of the HIV-exposed infant at the end of breastfeeding.
“We should not only focus on addressing the quality of our programming, or the integrity of our data systems or the availability of lab and pharmacy commodities,” said VP Chiwenga.
“We should actively work to engage communities, including meaningfully engaging women living with HIV as well as respect the rights of our clients.”
Zimbabwe was recently congratulated by the United Nations for achieving the 90-90-90 targets and VP Chiwenga is on record that the country was now seized with achieving the 95-95-95 targets.
These are the targets that express the percentage of people living with HIV who are aware of their status, the percentage of those who are aware and are now receiving antiretroviral medication, and the percentage of those on the medication whose viral load has been fully suppressed.
VP Chiwenga said Zimbabwe developed a plan for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis covering the years 2018-2022, with the goal to attain the gold tier on the path to elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as per the WHO criteria for validation.
He said the target was to reduce mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV to less than five percent and to reduce congenital syphilis cases among children.
“I am pleased to inform you that we are making good progress in several areas, notably: The roll out of the dual testing kits for both HIV and syphilis is on course, with training on use of the test kits having commenced in this quarter,” said VP Chiwenga.
“The roll out of the integrated specimen transportation system is well underway and this will reduce the turnaround time for families to receive the results of the HIV test for their HIV exposed infants.”
VP Chiwenga said another big challenge was to overcome the negative impact of Covid-19 on the provision of essential services.
“As cases of Covid-19 continue to decline, let us encourage our relatives, friends and colleagues to take advantage of the national Covid-19 vaccination drive that has been generously supported by our Government,” he said.