15 January 2016

Malawi: Govt Launches HIV Viral Load Scale Up Strategic Implementation Plan

Lilongwe — Government on Wednesday launched the Viral Load scale Up Strategic Implementation Plan for the years 2015 to 2018.

The HIV Viral Load Scale up Strategic and Implementation Plan has been developed to address the gap between Malawi's current Viral Load Testing capacities and the estimated need for VLT by the end of 2018.

Speaking during the launching ceremony, the Minister of Health Dr Peter Kumpalume said the HIV Viral Load Testing is increasingly important in the care of patients infected with HIV.

"Viral Load Testing (VLT) information is important in antiretroviral therapy (ART) monitoring based on research findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 2013. VLT detects treatment failure earlier than CD4 tests and with adherence support, patients remain virologically suppressed," said the Minister.

He said to further underscore the importance of VLT, the African Society for Laboratory medicine, the WHO, the UNAIDS, the Society for AIDS in Africa and the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society recently convened over 100 international clinical, laboratory and policy experts to discuss the challenges and highlighted priorities for Ministers of Health considering expanded access to HIV viral load testing.

Kumpalume further disclosed that of the estimated 1.1 million Malawians living with HIV over 600,000 are expected to be taking antiretroviral therapy by the end of 2016 and that by the end of 2018 close to 800,000are expected to be on treatment.

The Minister said that it is anticipated that if all the key activities detailed in the viral load scale up plan are fully implemented, then by the end of 2018, 70 percent of Malawian viral load testing needs will be met, with 90 percent of the people tested expected to be virally suppressed.

WHO representative Lesley Ngalula said the document gives hope to all clients on ART and urged for concerted efforts to support government on VLT.

"Malawi should be able to move from 27 percent coverage to the desired 70 percent VLT by 2018," said Ngalula.

The Country Director for Center for Disease Control and Prevention Sundeep Gupta said the United States government, through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is glad that Malawi now has a blue print to guide scale up of an essential part of its HIV program and is very proud to support the important and challenging initiative.

"Malawi is known for its successes in fighting the HIV epidemic through scaling up ART. Malawi has successfully decentralized ART delivery to virtually every health facility in the country, numbering about 700 and now has approximately 6000,000 patients alive and on ART," said Gupta.

Malawi's Demographic and Health Survey estimated that 10.6 percent of Malawians are HIV positive.

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