Worlds AIDS Day: Zimbabwe nears HIV epidemic control, US pledges US$1.7 billion support

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By Anna Chibamu

ZIMBABWE has reached a milestone in reducing the spread of HIV, strengthening its health systems and supporting people living with the virus.

According to the US, Zimbabwe is on the brink of HIV epidemic control.

This was made possible by several initiatives both from the government and the donor communities supported by different nations.

The US, through the President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)’s inception in 2003 gave hope to many desperate Zimbabweans who saw the disease as a “death sentence”.

Then, HIV/AIDS devastated the country with more than 30 percent of the adult population infected by the virus.

“More than 330 people were dying every day, leaving generations of orphans but today, thanks to two decades of support from PEPFAR and other donors as well as community and host government efforts, Zimbabwe is on the brink of HIV epidemic control,” the US Embassy in Harare revealed this week.

It reported that, of the 1.3 million Zimbabweans living with HIV, more than 1.2 million are now on life-saving HIV treatment due to PEPFAR’s support and other donors.

Statistics have shown that 97% of those on treatment achieved viral suppression; meaning they can no longer transmit the virus to their partners if they continue to take their treatment.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR.

Announced on January 28, 2003, by President George W. Bush, PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease (HIV), saving lives through compassionate, cost effective, accountable, and transparent assistance.

The 35th World AIDS Day commemorated Friday under the theme, “World AIDS Day 35: Remember and Commit.”

“The theme presents an opportunity to reflect on the progress collectively made with partners and to commit to the actions needed to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

“To date, the U.S. government has invested over $1.7 billion in Zimbabwe since 2006 to strengthen health systems and support people living with HIV.

“This has helped Zimbabweans live longer and healthier lives.”

In 2023 alone, PEPFAR invested more than $200 million to fund and deliver HIV/AIDS programs in the country saving many lives.

In addition, PEPFAR has contributed to the Health care worker support which contributes nearly $90 million annually to support salary and incentives for 21,700 healthcare workers countrywide.

These include nurses, laboratory scientists, social workers, and community health workers to deliver and improve HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

In its financial year 2023, “PEPFAR provided HIV testing services for nearly 1.25 million people; cervical cancer screening services for more than 239,572 women living with HIV;  viral load testing for more than 867,413 people living with HIV; Tuberculosis (TB) preventive treatment for more than 207,661 people living with HIV.

The Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, where 99,053 individuals were newly enrolled on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection and the Voluntary medical male circumcision for 133,028 adolescent boys and men to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. “

DREAMS, under PEPFAR  since 2015, has supported HIV prevention services to more than one million at-risk adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) between the ages of 10 to 24 through DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) partnerships.

“Nearly 244,00 AGYW received DREAMS services in 16 districts of Zimbabwe in FY2023 alone.”

DREAMS support includes HIV prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent them from contracting HIV, economic strengthening initiatives, educational subsidies, and complementary services for orphans and vulnerable children.

Health System Strengthening under PEPFAR  provides essential support, including laboratory and surveillance strengthening, supply chain, electronic health records, and human resources, to Zimbabwe’s health system.

“Such programs became the foundation of the COVID-19 response, and technical assistance from PEPFAR has shifted to support key roles in helping the country formulate sound public health policies and procedures including the response to pandemics and other emergencies,” stated the Embassy.

PEPFAR is led by the U.S. State Department and its programs are implemented through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It collaborates with key partners, including the Zimbabwe government; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; civil society organizations (CSOs); and other bilateral and multilateral health development partners such as UNAIDS, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).