Test and Treat offers Malawi hope to reduce new HIV infections

Malawi stands a chance to reduce number of people infected by HIV annually once ‘Test and Treat’ strategy is rolled out next year.TEST TREAT

The southern African country will, from April 2016, extend antiretroviral therapy (ART) eligibility to all HIV-positive persons through ‘Test and Treat’ strategy which was adopted last September.

Under the strategy, individuals will be put on ART as soon as they test positive to significantly reduce the rate of new infections.

World Health Organization representative in Malawi, Eugene Nyarko told Nyasa Times on Tuesday during commemorations of World Aids Day at Chisitu Primary School in Mulunje district that the strategy will offer people no option for excuses to delay treatment.

”Its time ART should be seen as form of prevention. The strategy will reduce new infections as well as stigma,” explained Nyarko.

Nyarko said once the strategy is implemented, those diagnosed with HIV will immediately start taking life-saving ARV drugs, rather than waiting until their immune system weakens.

He added that ‘Test and Treat’ will help the country drastically reduce new HIV infection rate as people on effective treatment have close to zero risk of transmitting the virus to others.

”When one is on treatment, viral load tests are expected to be done regularly (every month) to ensure the treatement is effective”.

However, Nyarko noted that the strategy will be expensive to implement as it requires increased investment.

”It doesn’t come cheap; there is need for more investment in human resources, more testing services, kits and drugs. So it is very expensive,” he said.

Malawi allocates about 20 percent of its national budget towards HIV and Aids programmes.

Recently Global Fund provided the country with about K40 billion for HIV and Aids initiatives including ‘Test and Treat’ strategy, Malaria and TB.

Malawi Network of Aids Service Organizations (Manaso) Board Chairperson, Maziko Matemba described the strategy as new hope for Malawi.

”The current prevention methods have not been effective, now with the Test and Treat, the viral load will be surpressed, meaning new infections will reduce and spreading of the virus will be minimized,”
said Matemba.

”As HIV and Aids activist, am happy as people will be able to enjoy their right to health. Malawi has clearly demonstrated respect to rights of patients”.

According to UNAids, early ART reduces chances of transmission of HIV to an uninfected persons by 96 percent.

Malawi registers 42,000 new HIV infections annually, meaning about 115 people are infected with the virus every single day.

The country loses about 33,000 people to Aids related deaths.

UNAids revealed that the country has reduced mother to child transmission of HIV by 67 percent between 2009 and 2013.

And up to 275,000 deaths have been prevented between 2004 and 2014 due to successful ART programme.

Malawi has also reduced new HIV infections from 68,000 per year in 2009 to 42,000 in 2014.

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