In this interview, Albert Sharra talks with Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali on the just-ended HIV testing week.
The HIV testing week has ended. As Ministry of Health, how would you describe this yearâ€™s exercise?
It may be too early to say a lot about the 2012 HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) week, but there are signs of success in many districts whereas other districts slowed down to pick up contrary to our expectations. Based on our preparations, the [progress was slow] in some areas, but let us wait for the results to be consolidated within the next 14 days and then we may give out a true picture of the whole campaign.
What main challenges did you encounter during the exercise?
We have not met as a team to do a postmortem of the whole exercise since the end of the campaign last week, but some of the primary challenges were low turnout in some areas due to poor publicity.
While all the district councils were informed in good time, there was a delay in engaging the communities and other relevant structures that exist in the communities about the forthcoming HTC week. Some local leaders were not aware of the campaign whereas others were informed late.
In addition, we [saw fewer couples turning up for HTC] during the week although they were our primary targets, including young people. It is strange to see that couples testing and counselling, which has the potential to prevent any further family issues such as acceptance of the results, is still low.
Both men and women prefer to be tested alone. Besides, youths were also reluctant to come forward for the HTC although this week was specifically dedicated to this age group. However, we do acknowledge and understand that every campaign may have some shortfalls and we do not suspect these to have very much impact on reaching our target.
Has the exercise met its target to test at least 250 000 people?
As indicated above, we have not consolidated the data yet, but we are hopeful that we have reached the target. If for some reason we have failed to reach the target, then we will re-examine what might have gone wrong. Meanwhile, let us wait for the report. We are also mindful that the campaign was not done in the past three years and that may have contributed to the low turnout because people may have forgotten about HTC week. But, let us wait for the results.
Â What lessons have been learnt from this yearâ€™s exercise? How far will these lessons affect the national HIV and Aids fight from now onwards?
Our planning and other activities prior to the campaign were done perfectly. There are many partners that considerably supported us in the planning, implementation as well as during the supervision. The coordination and support during the campaign was worthwhile to the campaign. This is the support that should exist in programmes aimed at improving access to healthcare services, including HIV and Aids services in the country. Implementing activities in isolation may have many challenges and leads to duplication and wastage of resources. This year, we have also managed to document the whole campaign so that we can showcase it in different forums, local and international, as one of the best practices to promote HTC.
What is your message to Malawians on HIV testing?
We wish to say HTC is a process through which one knows her/his HIV status through blood testing. HIV testing and counselling has traditionally been offered in sites designated for voluntary counselling and testing and, currently, we also offer provide initiated counselling and testing. HIV testing is also regarded as an entry point for HIV prevention packages and other services such as Pre-ART programme (prevention of HIV transmission before being initiated on ART), medical male circumcision, Anti-retroviral drugs, including preventing of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services and also post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).