Malawi has recorded remarkable progress in responding to HIV and Aids with latest statistics indicating the country has reduced new infections by about 40 percent and cut the national prevalence rate from 10 percent to 8.9 percent.
In the 2017 Global Aids Update Report, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids) has mentioned Malawi alongside Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe as countries leading the way in reducing new HIV infections in Eastern and Southern Africa.
The report says since 2010, the Eastern and Southern Africa has reduced new infections by an average of 30 percent with Malawi and the other three nations trimming the same by 40 percent.
Statistics provided by the Ministry of Health (MoH) show that the number of new infections continues to drop from 59 000 in 2010 to 33 000 in 2017, with over 710 000 people living with HIV (PLHIVs) currently accessing the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) while the HIV prevalence rate now stands at 8.9 percent.
Health activists and government have described the development as good news for the country which is also making tremendous progress towards getting the 90-90-90 targets.
MoH deputy director in the Department of HIV and Aids Management, Thokozani Kalua, said the UNAids 2017 report validates what the national programme earlier reported.
He attributed the achievement to the level of HIV viral suppression at the population level.
Said Kalua: “More than three out of five people living with HIV have a low viral load and have very little risk of transmitting HIV. This has been possible with the provision of antiretroviral medicines [ARVs] to PLHIV.
“The country has progressively increased the number of facilities which are able to provide ARVs to currently over 730 health facilities, bringing the life-saving medicines closer to people who need them.”
He said the country has also progressively ensured that guidelines support provision of ARVs as early as possible.
Malawi was the first country to provide ARVs to all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers living with HIV for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (a strategy called Option B+). It is also one of the first countries to provide ARVs to all PLHIV regardless of their immune status.
Besides the treatment success, the country has also scaled up prevention interventions such as condom provision and other targeted interventions such as those for adolescent girls and young women.
“The country is on track to reaching its targets in the National Strategic Plan and also global targets. With this progress number of deaths from HIV will continue to decline,” said Kalua.
Malawi spends over $250 million (about K182.5 billion) on the HIV response annually. However, government’s contribution remains sketchy but includes most of the health facilities where the services are offered, most of the healthcare workers who provide the services and also direct budget support.
But over the past years, government has reportedly increased its annual budget support to HIV and Aids response by almost nine percent while focusing on improving access to treatment, care and support.
In a separate interview yesterday, National Aids Commission (NAC) executive director Davie Kalomba said the realised progress was being made on the back of the enhanced strategies in HIV and Aids that have seen response evolving from a health sector-led to a multi-sectoral one.
Further, he said the other contributing factor was the fact that Malawi was one of the countries that have rapidly scaled up the treatment programme for both Aids-related conditions as well as prevention.
Said Kalomba: “That also relates to the prevention of mother to child transmission programme where HIV positive pregnant mothers as well as lactating mothers are enrolled on treatment to prevent the transmission. But beyond that we also have a number of behavioural related interventions that have also contributed to the reduction of some risky sexual practices.”
While warning government against relaxing because of the feat, health rights activist Maziko Matemba has asked authorities to aim at sustaining the gains.
“As a country, we need to be proud. This shows we are able to appreciate support we receive from global partners such as Global Fund and Pepfar. This good lesson should help us on how we can sustain the positive gains because halting new infection is the only way of ending Aids by 2030,” said Matemba, who is executive director of Health and Rights Education Programme (Hrep). n