Africa cuts HIV infections, deaths but key targets slide

08Dec 2021
By Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Africa cuts HIV infections, deaths but key targets slide

AFRICA has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 per cent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths, a global agency has stated.

Still the continent is unlikely to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 with many countries falling behind key elimination milestones while the COVID-19 pandemic aggravating challenges, on the basis of an update by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The main target is that to achieve the 2030 global development goal of ending AIDS, countries should ensure that by 2025 around 95per cent of people living with HIV know their status, 95 per cent of those who know their positive status are on treatment, and 95 percent of those receiving treatment have their viral load significantly suppressed.

A fast track strategy to end AIDS was initiated in December 2015 by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and then in December 2020, the new 95-95-95 five-year plan replaced the 90-90-90 targets pursued earlier.

WHO is tracking progress toward the 95-95-95 targets with a scorecard released by the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa in the South African port city of Durban.

The scorecard finds that in December 2021 countries in the Africa region reported 87 per cent of people living with HIV know their status, while among them 77per cent are on treatment and 68 percent have low viral loads.

So far  nine countries, listed as Botswana, Cabo Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe are considered to be on track to reach the 95-95-95 targets by 2025, on the basis of remarks by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” he said, noting that COVID-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging. “But one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle COVID-19 and HIV in parallel,” he declared.

The scorecard finds that no country has met all three 95-95-95 targets, but Eswatini has exceeded the first two and is within sight of the third, with 93per cent of people on treatment having their viral load suppressed.

Cabo Verde, Djibouti and Kenya have met the status awareness target, while Cabo Verde has also reached the treatment inclusion target, with eight countries close to meeting the status target. Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe are nearing the treatment objective, he elaborated.

Inadequate access to HIV testing and treatment for key populations is hampering progress, with community-based services and stigma-free health facilities essential to help ensure those injecting drugs, sex workers and other marginal groups get the health care they need, he emphasised.

The viral load suppression target has registered the least progress, with 48per cent of countries reporting no data, due to the scarcity of viral load testing centres in many countries, especially in rural areas. This has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as testing centres shifted to the new virus, he lamented.

“Africa has come so far, and we know how to end AIDS. But unless governments make a fresh push, increasing resources and commitment to strengthening their fragile health systems we will not reach the last mile,” the director cautioned.

Accelerating the momentum against the disease requires improving access to HIV treatment and care notably by decentralizing services to the grassroots and eliminating user fees for key services.

Another measure is increasing domestic funding by governments for HIV programmes as well as boosting the fight against stigma and discrimination so that those who need care have no fear seeking it, he added.