NAC optimistic about UNAIDS’ 95:95:95 targets’ achievement amid Covid-19 bite

The National Aids Commission (NAC) has expressed optimism that Malawi will achieve the ambitious new 95-95-95 targets of ending HIV and Aids epidemic by 2030 as spelt out by the United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS).

However, the Commission has admitted that the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak has negatively affected the fight against Aids in the country as more resources are being channelled to the new pandemic.

NAC acting CEO Dr. Andrew Gonani addressing in Salima on Thursday–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Through the targets, UNAIDS seeks government’s commitment to ensuring that 95 percent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 95 percent of people who know their status on treatment; and 95 percent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.

They also emphasize on the reduction of the annual number of new HIV infections among adults to 200,000 and achieving zero discrimination.

The goal of ending Aids as a public health threat by 2030 came about through the commitment of the national leaders, the presidents, through the United Nations General Assembly of 2016.

If successfully achieved, the targets would prevent nearly 28 million new HIV infections and 21 million AIDS-related deaths in the next nine years.

NAC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Andrew Gonani (sitting at the centre) poses for a photo with journalists and NAC officers–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

NAC acting Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Andrew Gonani, while admitting that the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has had a huge impact on Aids fight, Malawi is poised to achieve UN goals by the set year.

“We are making good and even with Covid-19, we are hopeful as a nation that we will meet the targets. First meeting them by 2025 as outlined in the National Strategic Plan 2020-2025. And we’ll re-plan in 2024-25 for another National Strategic Plan covering the last mile of 2025-2030,” said Gonani.

He made the remarks in Salima on Thursday when he opened a two-day media orientation on current HIV and AIDS trends in Malawi as well as the National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS (2020-2025) by the Commission.

The media orientation sessions have been organized by the HIV Prevention and Management as well as the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Divisions of NAC.

The one taking place in Salima is part of the advocacy sessions NAC is working on to capacitate the media so that members report accurately on the National Response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Gonani described the UNAIDS targets as quite realistic and that Malawi is making very good progress in controlling HIV and Aids.

“What happens is that the National Strategic Plan has overarching targets in all respects that should be done in respect to combating HIV, including making sure that we prevent people that are HIV negative should not get the virus. If for some reason they get the virus, now we know that once you are tested HIV positive, you can start taking ARVs and, therefore, we encourage people that have lately contracted HIV to start taking ARVs immediately,” he said.

“And should they start taking them immediately and routinely, not skipping them, they are assured of living a healthy life. And from time to time every year, the viral load of the people that are taking ARVs is being suppressed,” he added.

Gonani emphasized that the media is a critical partner of the Commission in fighting the disease by disseminating accurate information about HIV and Aids.

He disclosed that the country is making steady progress towards suppressing the viral load among those living with HIV and Aids.

However, the acting NAC chief executive officer deplored the poor health seeking behaviour among men, saying this is slowing the country’s pace in fast-tracking the Aids response in order to reach these targets.

“Men are lagging behind in terms of accessing HIV services due to poor health seeking behaviour. That was also identified in the National Strategic Plan and there are strategies to reach them,” he said.

“Primarily, working through coordinating bodies like the Malawi Business Coalition against Aids, we know that it could be mostly men that we can consider as working elite and normally they do not seek the services as others would.

“So, we would like to target them through the implementation of workplace programmes, we will reach them at their workplace with information that is general to promote their wellness, but also specific enough to elaborate,” added Gonani.

In his presentation, NAC Corporate Services and Public Relations Officer Karen Iron Msiska observed that some media institutions stopped carrying HIV and Aids stories as they shifted their attention to Covid-19.

Msiska appealed to the journalists not to relent in contributing towards the UNAIDS goals by providing accurate information to the audience.

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