ESWATINI ON SUCCESSFUL ROUTE IN FIGHT AGAINST HIV AND AIDS
BY LUNGA MASUKU
DECEMBER 7, 2022
Mbabane – The Kingdom of eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland has turned the corner in as far as the HIV/AIDS pandemic is concerned, this emerged during an exclusive interview with Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi last week.
The country has just been recognised for reaching the multi-sectoral milestone of 94-97-96 as indicated in the latest findings of the Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Survey (SHIMS3. It was for that reason that by 2030, the country will be among the countries that would have met the UN goals of an AIDS-free generation by 2030.
Nkosi said political will and the king’s proclamation of making HIV a national disaster helped the country turn the tide that came about after the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1990s. The first case was recorded in 1986 and the epidemic was not much spread since it was a new disease. Minister Nkosi said King Mswati III after seeing the devastating effects of the epidemic, led him to declare the pandemic a national disaster.
“The king’s decision of declaring HIV a national issue should be of concern to everyone and he committed the government to place HIV as a top priority, which meant that ARVs should get a lion’s share of the ministry’s budget. This was at the time when ARVs were still scarce and he compelled government to budget for ARVs so that lives could be saved.
“International partners joined hands with the government after seeing that the country had a political will, which made it easy for the government to negotiate with international organisations like PERPFAR to come on board,” said Nkosi.
“At the moment a larger percentage of the drugs are bought by our international partners, which gives people hope that their lives are a priority to the government of the kingdom.” She disclosed at the peak of the epidemic the prevalence rate stood at over 35 per cent and she was happy that the country had greatly reduced figures to less than 27 per cent.
An international partner like the Global Fund came through and it was at this stage that the government launched the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) that was tasked with coordinating the fight on behalf of the government since she cannot be in charge of policy formulation and be an implementing partner.
The minister said when the first COVID 19 case was recorded in March 2020, it saw the country coming up with new strategies, which saw those on ART given enough stock of the drugs in order to ensure that they would not travel when the country had introduced a series of lockdowns.
“There was a time when we were worried that people on ARVs were going to be at risk of contracting and dying of COVID related complications, but we were pleased when we discovered that a majority of those people were taking their drugs well and they heeded our calls for employing every precautionary measure to survive the pandemic,” added Nkosi.
The minister said during the pandemic, the country saw an increase in new infections, mainly in the bracket of 15 to 24-year-olds, such that the minister described it as an age group of concern and that will need their undivided attention in a bid to ensure that they hit the 99-99-99 target by 2030. Other milestones include the reduction of the infection rate by 64 per cent between 2010 and 2021, mother to child transmission dropped by 53 per cent in the same period. Special interest groups made of LG communities will form part of the groups the country was targeting in as it pushed the envelope to reach all sectors of the country. At the moment, there are 220 000 people enrolled on ARVs in the country.
It is for this reason that the Swaziland HIV Incident Measurement Survey (SHIMS3) report, which is the latest study carried between March 2021 and November 2021, which found that an overall participants aged 15 and older hit the 94-97-96 target, with females getting 95-98-96 and males stood at 92-96-97.
Latest results of the new study indicate that the youth between ages 15-24 had a lower achievement on this cascade at 84-96-90 for females and 91-96-87 for males.
In a nutshell, these figures refer to the total number of people who know their HIV status, those who have enrolled to ART and those people who have had their viral load suppressed successfully,
Nkosi disclosed that the country will be announcing new strategies so that the country does not slide back to the era when it was regarded as one of the worst hit countries by HIV and AIDS.
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