International medical humanitarian organisation,Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has expressed optimism that the new ‘Test and Treat’ strategy can help Malawi to significantly improve the health of people living with HIV, a virus that causes Aids.
The strategy dictates that anyone diagnosed with HIV should immediately start taking life-saving Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, rather than waiting until their immune system is weakened by the virus.
In the National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS last year, the Malawi Government indicated that the new eligibility criteria will be introduced from April 2016.
And in a statement on Wednesday, MSF’s Medical Coordinator, Dr Reinaldo Ortuno, expressed optimism that the new strategy will help change the face of HIV and AIDS in Malawi.
By adopting the strategy, Ortuno said Malawi has the opportunity to significantly impact on improving the health of people living with HIV as well as introducing a powerful new tool to reduce the spread of the virus.
“Malawi has shown itself to be a country that embraces innovative strategies in its HIV response, such as Option B+ as a means to help prevent HIV+ mothers infecting their babies,” he said.
According to Ortuno, nearly 400,000 HIV positive people do not know that they are infected with the virus.
“Test and treat can turn the tide on HIV, but as a tool to control the epidemic it will require drastic changes and greatly increased investment including in more human resources, with HIV care moving out of clinics and into the communities with mobilized, empowered and engaged people living with HIV that actually are part of the response. This will need effort and money”, he added.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria will hold its replenishment conference next year, which will be the first test of donors’ commitment to using the best science to treat all people living with the virus.
Deputy MSF Medical Coordinator Kelvin Phiri said where individuals are offered treatment as soon as they test positive, the number of people who are lost can be significantly reduced.
“In order to reach as many people as possible, as soon as possible, simplified, decentralised models of care and self-management strategies are needed that allow people to take more control over their own treatment and care,” said Phiri.
MSF started providing HIV treatment to people in developing countries in 2000, and today more than 200,000 people receive treatment with MSF support.
Recently, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids) deputy director for Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, Pierre Somse commended Malawi for being the first country to adopt the global 90:90:90 in its National Strategic Plan on HIV and Aids.
The targets seek countries’ commitment to have 90 percent of people living with HIV and Aids (PLHIV) know their status by 2020, 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV to be on ART by 2020 and 90 percent of patients on ART to be retained in care and have their viral load suppressed by 2020.