22 August 2014

Zambia: Chikanta HIV/Aids Policy a Milestone

WITH the cure for HIV/AIDS still elusive, it is clear that the fight against the pandemic cannot be restricted to one group but all the people have a role to play in stopping it.

This fact seems to have been realised by many people, who do not want to take chances by leaving the AIDS fight to scientists alone but by involving ordinary members of the community.

Chief Chikanta of Kalomio District should, therefore, be commended for launching what he and his subjects are calling a local policy declaration of leadership commitment on HIV/AIDS.

The policy, as we are made to understand, is meant to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in a comprehensive manner. In this regard, people in Chief Chikanta's area have identified, and targeted 35 key drivers of HIV.

All the people surely need to be encouraged to fight HIV/AIDS because this is not an individual problem but concerns all, hence the saying that 'if you are not infected, you are affected'.

It is true the rate of HIV infection has come down in Zambia. But it is also true that there are new infections every day, and this calls for a need for continued awareness-raising of the epidemic's impact on people, especially women and girls who are believed to be the most affected.

Recent reports that HIV had rebounded in a US infant girl who was earlier said to have been cured of the infection has just reinforced the longstanding view that eradication of HIV/AIDS will come not through a cure, but from knowledge.

People have to gain knowledge about HIV/AIDS, how it is transmitted,as well as how individuals put themselves at risk of infection. Only then can they know how to prevent HIV infection.

In the early years of the disease's outbreak, various theories were advanced in respect of who were most at risk, with some people saying it was the disease for rich people while others linked it to homosexuals and drug users.

Over the years, however, it seems HIV/AIDS has been evolving with its 'face' radically changing to the current stage where even suburban couples and school pupils, as well as truck drivers and their partners have become at risk of contracting the disease.

It is for this reason that health workers advise that the community should understand that there is no invisible barrier protecting them from this disease other than themselves, and that is through education leading to a change in people's sexual bahaviour.

Abstinence so far remains the most effective protection. However, for those who are sexually active and are unable to abstain, condoms offer very effective protection against HIV infection, but only if used correctly because even these are said to be not 100 per cent safe.

So apart from abstinence, information remains the best method of fighting HIV/AIDS. People need to be informed about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent its spread.

Most importantly, people should get tested to know their status. This is one way that can help them change their lifestyles, and even the course of the disease.

For those found to be positive, treatment is needed. HIV activists advise that these should also know that this disease is not a 'death sentence' and that there is life after being diagnosed with HIV.

In addition, health workers and counsellors advise that early diagnosis and treatment helps people with HIV live longer and healthier lives, and those who know their status take actions to protect others.

Chief Chikanta and his people obviously know that HIV/AIDS is devastating. At the same time, they are aware that it is a preventable disease, hence the move to come together as they try to combat the pandemic in their area.

They are likely to succeed if only they, as they say, promote awareness on the importance of HIV testing before marriage, and end such traditional practices as sexual cleansing, etc.


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