Ethiopia plans to prevent more than half a million AIDS-related deaths and prevent up to 80,000 new HIV infections by 2020, according to the Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO).
Dr Alebachew Achamyeleh acting director at HAPCO, said the next five years are critical for Ethiopia in the fight against HIV and AIDS. "I believe Ethiopia is in a strong position to achieve the goal of ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030," he said.
According to Dr Achamyeleh, Ethiopia has already exceeded its previous five-year target, having reduced new HIV infections from 0.28 per cent in 2010 to 0.03 per cent in 2015. The plan was to reach 0.14 per cent.
"This makes Ethiopia among one of the most successful countries in the world," he said.
Targeting people most at risk
Dr Achamyeleh said HIV prevention activities since 2010 have focused mainly on people most at risk of infection. Activities focused on identifying places and people with a high risk of HIV infection like hotspot areas for sex workers and long distance truck drivers, as well as addressing harmful practices like gender based violence.
Ethiopia has been working to address HIV in the last five years in the following areas: intensifying HIV prevention; enhancing care, treatment and support; and generating and using strategic information.
Prevention activities have included programmes in schools, universities and youth centres to encourage young people to change their behavior related to sexual health.
Shimelis Gebeyehu, sexual and reproductive health coordinator for DKT Ethiopia, works on a youth project in higher education institutions. He said there are promising achievements in the HIV prevention activities: "Especially the development of HIV/AIDS strategies and policies aimed at higher education students and communities. Most of the activities depend on donors for funding and there is a need to ensure that they are sustainable," Shimeles added.
Dr Achamyeleh said: "In Ethiopia, more than 3,000 health facilities give voluntary counselling and testing service, while 377,000 people are on treatment in 1,500 service centres. Around 35,000 of these people began the service in 2015."
According to the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, more than 70,000 people died of AIDS in 2010. By 2015, the death rate had fallen by 70 per cent. Dr Achamyeleh said: "This is the outcome of the increased access to antiretroviral treatment."
Gaps in HIV response
Even though the country has made remarkable achievements in the last five years there are still major gaps which need attention. According to Dr Achamyeleh, only 20 per cent of HIV positive children are taking antiretrovirals. "We need to work hard towards reaching as many of them as possible," he said.
He also warned that Ethiopia lags behind in comprehensive knowledge about HIV and AIDS, especially among the younger generation, who tend to wrongly perceive HIV as no longer a threat due to the reduced incidence.
"We need to intensify our coordinated efforts. Undertaking high impact targeted prevention activities and targeted HIV counselling and testing are among the priorities over the next five years," said Dr Achamyeleh.
When it comes to addressing HIV among young people, Shimelis argues that: "Thinking with the youth is crucial - the youth need an approach full of understanding." He believes for a project aimed at young people to be successful, they need to take part in every step of planning and undertaking of the activities.