Wednesday December 12, 2018

HIV Outbreak In Southern and Eastern Africa

An estimated 800,000 people in eastern and southern Africa acquired HIV in 2017, and an estimated 380,000 people died of AIDS-related illness, the report indicated.

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More than half of the people surveyed who inject drugs said they avoided health-care services, citing discrimination or fear of law enforcement authorities.VOA
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A report by UNAIDS, “Miles to go—closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices”, warns that the global response to HIV is at a critical point. Eastern and southern Africa remain the regions most affected by the HIV epidemic, accounting for 45 percent of the world’s HIV infections and 53 percent of people with HIV globally.

An estimated 800,000 people in eastern and southern Africa acquired HIV in 2017, and an estimated 380,000 people died of AIDS-related illness, the report indicated.

Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania accounted for more than half of the new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS-related illness in the region last year.

The survey also indicated that there was discrimination against HIV positive persons in healthcare settings, especially towards key populations.

Key populations include men who have sex with men, drugs users, transgender persons and sex workers, considered to be most at risk at contracting HIV.

There are nearly 1 million sex workers estimated to need services in the region.

“For us it is important in fact we do have within NASCOP, a key population program, mainly targeting the key populations, the female sex workers, men who have sex with men and injecting drug users,” said Dr. Kigen Barmasai, the director at Kenya’s National Aids and STI Control Program, NASCOP “One, we know that this contributes to 33 percent of new infections in Kenya, from this key populations, of course the prevalence varies, we have prevalence from 29 percent in female sex workers to 18 percent among the injected drug users. So as a program we are working on this and we are spearheading the HIV prevention, treatment and care efforts to reverse the epidemic. For the last ten years we have been working on that.”

More than half of the people surveyed who inject drugs said they avoided health-care services, citing discrimination or fear of law enforcement authorities.

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The survey also indicated that there was discrimination against HIV positive persons in healthcare settings, especially towards key populations..VOA

In Kenya homosexuality is illegal and being found guilty can lead to a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Sex work is also illegal in Kenya.

“The criminal nature of Key populations, and the acts of Key populations that make people shy away from accessing health care and even organizing, coming together so that they can organize,” said Grace Kamau, chairperson of the Key population consortium in Kenya. “The main thing is the criminal nature. People fear to be arrested”

The report said about two-thirds of all people living with HIV in the region were accessing antiretroviral therapy in 2017.

Kamau attributes the successes in reaching large numbers of Key populations in Kenya to availability of HIV resources made possible by donor funding, but she says more people are yet to be reached.

“One of the things we have in Kenya is private clinics that are donor funded,” said Kamau. “That is where the sex workers feel comfortable and that is where they access their services. And that is what has made the number to go high.”

The report indicates that there were 19.6 million people living with HIV in eastern and southern Africa at the end of 2017.

Out of this number 81% were aware of their HIV status, an increase from 77% in 2016.

West and central Africa continues to lag behind as statistics indicated AIDS-related deaths have fallen by only 24% in western and central Africa, compared to a 42% decline in eastern and southern Africa.

Also Read-UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

Nigeria has more than half of the HIV burden in the region and there has been little progress in reducing new HIV infections there in recent years. (VOA)

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HIV Epidemic Spreading Rapidly In Pakistan: WHO

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to "de-stigmatize HIV testing.

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The World Health Organization warns Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region. VOA

Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region, warns the World Health Organization (WHO).

The international body says mortality among Pakistanis living with the virus, which causes the deadly AIDS disease, is also rising, in spite of the availability of lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

The latest government figures show that only 16 percent of the estimated 150,000 people living with HIV had been tested and only 9 percent have access to lifesaving treatment.

“The remaining 135,000 people are walking around in the communities as carriers of (HIV) infection who are ready to transmit infections to those who are not infected, even to their unborn babies,” Dr. Saima Paracha of the National AIDS Control Program, told VOA.

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Participants hold placards in the shape of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV, as a hot air balloon is released during an awareness campaign ahead of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India. VOA

Officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among the key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients and men who have sex with men.

“The drivers of infection are now the sexual networks and they are ready to spill the infection into the general public,” Dr. Paracha cautioned.

Paracha says the Pakistani government offers free HIV testing and treatment, but she notes the marginalized key populations continue face widespread stigma and discrimination in the society.

The fear of maltreatment, and punitive actions by law enforcers impacts the willingness of these populations to pursue testing, which remains a major challenge facing national efforts to treat and prevent the spread of HIV, she lamented.

Official estimates show that Pakistan has seen a 45 percent increase in new HIV infections since 2010.

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A patient is seen in a ward at the state-run Lavra clinic, Ukraine’s main HIV treatment center, in Kyiv. VOA

“The number of new HIV infections will continue to increase dramatically if implementation rates of intervention remain at current levels,” said Dr. Nima Saeed Abid, country head of WHO.

An official statement issued in connection with World AIDS Day quoted him as saying that Pakistan has the lowest rate of all regional countries in diagnosing people who are infected and linking them to care and treatment.

Naila Bashir, who heads the HIV treatment center at Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), told VOA the facility receives up to 40 new HIV patients every month, underscoring the alarming increase in the number of infections.

The center was established in 2005 and the number of patients has since increased from 22 to more than 3,000, including men, women and children of all ages, said Dr. Bashir.

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Nearly a million people still die every year from AIDS. VOA

HIV has never been a priority program in the national health system and the recent abolition of the federal health ministry and the devolution of its functions to the provinces, which lacked preparedness and capacity, have led to the increase in infections, say WHO experts in the country. However, they acknowledge the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving priority to tackling health emergencies in Pakistan, including HIV.

Federal Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, Aamir Mehmood Kiyani, says the government is working on a strategy to remove barriers and challenges in protecting people from HIV infections.

Also Read: Eastern Europe Sees A Rise In Number of HIV Cases

Kiyani told a seminar in Islamabad that since taking office three months ago, the government has moved to established 12 new HIV treatment centers while overall 33 such facilities have been working throughout Pakistan.

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to “de-stigmatize HIV testing, advocate for confidential, non-discriminatory, community based care models and raise awareness about disease transmission, prevention treatment” to achieve reductions in new infections in affected populations. (VOA)