Revealed: Top 5 Tanzanian regions with highest rates of HIV infections

02Dec 2017
Aisia Rweyemamu
The Guardian
Revealed: Top 5 Tanzanian regions with highest rates of HIV infections

A new survey has revealed that the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is prevalent in a handful of regions in southern and northwestern parts of Tanzania, despite an overall decline in new infections in the country.

The Tanzania HIV Impact Survey (THIS), which was released yesterday by the state-run National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), shows that average national HIV/AIDS prevalence dropped to 4.7 per cent in 2016/17 from 5.1 per cent in the last survey conducted in 2011/12.

In 2003/04, the national HIV/AIDS prevalence stood at 7 per cent.

Several regions in Tanzania had local HIV infection rates way above the national average, raising concerns from medical experts.

The Top 5 regions with the highest HIV infection rates in Tanzania were named as Njombe (11.4 per cent), Iringa (11.3 per cent), Mbeya (9.3 per cent), Mwanza (7.2 per cent) and Kagera (6.5 per cent).

Other regions with a high infection rate are Shinyanga and Katavi with a joint 5.9 per cent rate, Songwe (5.8 per cent), Ruvuma (5.6 per cent), Coast Region (5.5 per cent), Dodoma and Tanga at 5 per cent each and Dar es Salaam (4.7 per cent).

Lindi (0.3 per cent), Pemba South (0.3 per cent), Arusha (1.9 per cent), Mtwara (2 per cent) and Kilimanjaro (2.6 per cent) are among regions with the lowest HIV infection rates.

South Unguja and North Pemba were found with zero HIV/AIDS infection rates.

An estimated 1.4 million Tanzanians are living with HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) released a new report yesterday in Geneva showing that men were less likely to take an HIV test, less likely to access antiretroviral therapy and more likely to die of AIDS-related illnesses than women.

The Blind spot shows that globally less than half of men living with HIV were on treatment, compared to 60 per cent of women.

Studies showed that men are more likely than women to start treatment late, to interrupt treatment and to be lost to treatment follow-up.

"Addressing the inequalities that put women and girls at risk of HIV is at the forefront of the AIDS response," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

"But there is a blind spot for men—men are not using services to prevent HIV or to test for HIV and are not accessing treatment on the scale that women are."

In sub-Saharan Africa, men and boys living with HIV are 20 per cent less likely than women and girls living with HIV to know their HIV status, and 27 per cent less likely to be accessing treatment.

The report highlights data from sub-Saharan Africa that show that condom use during sex with a non-regular partner is low among older men, who are also more likely to be living with HIV—50 per cent of men aged 40–44 years and 90 per cent of men aged 55–59 years reported not using a condom.

These data are consistent with studies showing a cycle of HIV transmission from older men to younger women, and from adult women to adult men of a similar age in places with high HIV prevalence.

The Blind spot also shows that HIV prevalence is consistently higher among men within key populations. Outside of eastern and southern Africa, 60 per cent of all new HIV infections among adults are among men.

The report outlines the particular difficulties men in key populations face in accessing HIV services, including discrimination, harassment and denial of health services.

Men who have sex with men are 24 times more likely to acquire HIV than men in the general population and in over two dozen countries HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is 15 per cent or higher.

However, recent studies suggest that condom use is dropping in Australia, Europe and the United States of America.

In the United States, for example, the percentage of HIV-negative gay men and other men who have sex with men who engage in sex without using condoms increased from 35 per cent to 41 per cent between 2011 and 2014.

The Blind spot shows that around 80 per cent of the 11.8 million people who inject drugs are men and that HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs exceeds 25 per cent in several countries.

Condom use is almost universally low among people who inject drugs and the percentage of men who inject drugs using sterile injecting equipment during their last drug injection varies from country to country.

The report shows the need to invest in boys and girls at an early age, ensuring that they have access to age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education that addresses gender equality and is based on human rights, creating healthy relationships and promoting health-seeking behaviour for both girls and boys.

The report shows that men visit health-care facilities less frequently than women, have fewer health checks and are diagnosed with life-threatening conditions at later stages than women.

In Uganda, some men reported they would rather avoid knowing their HIV status and receiving life-saving treatment because they associated being HIV-positive with emasculating stigma. One study in South Africa showed that 70 per cent of men who had died from AIDS-related illnesses had never sought care for HIV.

The report urges HIV programmes to boost men's use of health services and to make services more easily available to men. This includes making tailored health services available, including extending operating hours, using pharmacies to deliver health services to men, reaching men in their places of work and leisure, including pubs and sports clubs, and using new communications technologies, such as mobile phone apps.

It also urges a supportive legal and policy environment that addresses the common barriers to accessing HIV services, especially for key populations, and can accommodate the diverse needs and realities of men and boys.