By Elias Shilangwa
LUSAKA, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- Zambia is in the process of coming up with another national strategic framework on HIV/AIDS as the southern African nation presses on with its resolve to eliminate the pandemic.
Zambia has just reviewed its 2011-2015 framework on fighting against HIV/AIDS. Among the key findings of the review is that multiple and concurrent partners, low and inconsistent condom use, low levels of male circumcision, sex work, mobility and labor migration as well as alcohol abuse, are key drivers of the HIV pandemic.
"We are constantly examining what is working and what is not in order to transform the way we operate in order to continuously improve our ability to meet our ambitious goal of an HIV free Zambia," Kumar Baboo, chairperson of the country's National HIV Prevention Pillar under the National AIDS Council (NAC), a government agency that coordinates responses to the HIV fight, said during a media briefing.
According to him, Zambia has reached a crucial stage in its HIV prevention drive as it has committed to reducing the rate of new infections by 50 percent by 2015 and eventually to zero infections by 2030.
"Zambia is tackling this goal head on through the implementation of a broad program of evidence-based prevention interventions," he added.
Minister of Health Joseph Kasonde said it is possible to have a Zambia free of HIV because health workers are now able to address issues of HIV/AIDS because they now have the experience.
"When HIV and AIDS just came, we didn't know what had beat us. But now we can say that we have the experience and the knowledge to address issues. There should be no HIV and AIDS in Zambia," he said during the press briefing.
The southern African nation has so far put in place various interventions to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with the agency that coordinates responses to the fight expressing happiness at the progress made so far.
Joshua Banda, the chairperson of the National AIDS Council, said the epidemiological evidence shown so far are encouraging and a sure sign that the country is on the right path to eliminate the pandemic.
The official, who was speaking at the start of a three-day convention called to review the progress made in fighting the pandemic and shaping a new roadmap for the fight, said the government is now more than resolved to overcome the specter of HIV using multi-pronged approaches, adding that the country has so far made tremendous gains in the HIV response with a review of its strategies for the last five years showing impressive epidemiological indicators.
"For instance, the success rate in prevention of mother to child transmission coverage is currently at 95 percent. The number of new pediatric infections has drastically reduced from 18,422 in 2009 to 9,404 in 2011 while the number of AIDS-related deaths has reduced from 35,680 in 2009 to 30,285 in 2011," he said.
The official further revealed that between 2009 and 2012, nine out of 10 pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral medicines to prevent them from passing on the virus to their unborn babies.
"This success could be termed as progress on reaching the beginning of the end of AIDS in Zambia which feat earned us global recognition y UNAIDS as one of the six top performing countries," he added.
Among the interventions include distribution of free antiretroviral drugs which has so far seen 446,841 people living with the virus receiving the life-saving drugs at the end of last year out of 481,545 adults who are eligible to receive the drugs.
Other interventions include promotion of condom distribution, encouraging people to go for voluntary counseling and testing, encouraging men to go for male circumcision which has been proved by scientists to reduce chances of contracting HIV by 60 percent.
However the country still faces enormous challenges which needed to be tackled in order to realize the dream of having a free HIV country.
Among the challenges are to reduce the number of new infections from 82,000 in 2009 to 40,000 in 2015, ensuring universal access to AIDS treatment and care, mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of HIV/ADS by reducing the number of vulnerable households by 50 percent by 2015 and strengthening the capacity for a well- coordinated, multisectoral AIDS response.
Other challenges include encouraging people to improve behavior change, reduce stigma, integrate HIV testing and treatment into general health care and scale up access to prevention mechanisms.
Early this week, the country announced three new ambassadors for an initiative that aims to put men at the core of the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The Brothers for Life initiative is a mass-media HIV prevention campaign targeting Zambia men. It seeks to reinforce positive behavior and asks men to stand up and take action to prevent HIV/ AIDS.
It was officially launched in 2011 and has had 10 ambassadors, including the country's founding President Kenneth Kaunda and musicians and actors.
It also tackles gender-based violence and alcohol abuse and is being implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Agency (UNICEF).
With 14.3 percent of its population aged between 15 and 49 currently living with the HIV virus, Zambia will need to accelerate its interventions in order to realize zero HIV status. As the country embarks on a process of coming up with a new strategic framework, which will run from 2016 to 2020, there is need to come up with high impact interventions.