Zambia: Aids Testing Now Mandatory

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HIV/AIDS testing is now mandatory in public health institutions as the Government acts to prevent further loss of life from the disease which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since the mid-80s, President Edgar Lungu has announced, reports the Times of Zambia.

Mr Lungu said the HIV/AIDS pandemic had since 1984 claimed more than one million lives, while more than 1.2 million more people were currently living with the virus, and this has had a negative impact on national development.

He said the matter was debated in detail during Monday's Cabinet meeting, with the discussion culminating in the resolution to implement the measure with a view to helping wipe out the disease by 2030.

"This bold decision prioritises HIV testing and immediate commencement and retention on Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) treatment of all Zambians living with HIV. If you think that, just because you don't fall sick then all is well, one day you will drop dead and we will know (your status) when you are in the morgue. So get tested so that you know your status," Mr Lungu said.

He said this at the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC) in Lusaka yesterday when he officiated at the launch of the 2017 HIV Testing, Counseling and Treatment Day, which was commemorated under the theme 'Test and Treat: Towards Ending AIDS'.

Mr Lungu said when people fell ill, they would be subjected to all tests, including HIV/AIDS . Those testing positive for HIV-AIDS would immediately put on treatment to help control the disease.

The Government is taking an integrated approach to the problem to ensure that the country meets its 2030 target of eliminating HIV in all communities across the country.

Mr Lungu called on stakeholders to support the measure, emphasising on the need to empower people who tested negative with information to help them maintain their status by avoiding infection.

The President said the Government was keen to achieve a healthy and productive population, which was a prerequisite to national development.

He urged Zambians to work to eliminate stigma in the workplace and in wider society.

Mr Lungu said that from 2010 to 2016, the Government had reduced HIV prevalence by 41 per cent; 8,000 patients were on ART and 80 per cent of the infected adult population was on treatment.

The Head of State called for more stakeholder participation to help keep the trend in reverse and urged youth to avoid alcohol and substance abuse that increased the chances of exposure to HIV and in some cases, led to death.

The President said it was unacceptable that only 50 per cent of HIV-positive children were on treatment.

Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya praised President Lungu for his spirited fight against HIV/AIDS, which demonstrated his willingness to combat the scourge.

United Nations (UN) resident coordinator Janet Rogan said controlling HIV/AIDS could not be achieved by the Government alone, but in concert with other stakeholders' efforts, especially those designed to promote good moral conduct among the people.

Ms Rogan said policies and strategies should be backed by measures that, among other things, encouraged women to seek medical help to prevent mother-to-child (MTC) transmission.

"Traditional leaders have a role to play in this. This will help us reduce stigma and encourage drug intake among patients because HIV/AIDS will be controlled by our own actions," she said.

United States (US) Charge'D Affaires Christopher Craft said HIV/AIDS testing was crucial for Zambia to attain an HIV-AIDS free population, and that his government remained committed to helping the country achieve the goal.

Mr Craft said under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFER), the US had, todate, helped Zambia with USD$3 billion to help control HIV, with 8,000 patients on ART.

Lusaka Province Minister Japhen Mwakalombe encouraged Lusaka residents and people living in other parts of the country to go for HIV counseling and testing.

Photo: Lourenço Silva/PlusNews