6 September 2017

Tanzania: HIV Sliding, but War Rages

Poverty drives young females to marry old men, and some become sexually active before turning 15

THE number of new HIV infections in Tanzania has dropped by 35 per cent between 2011 and 2016, from an estimated 80,000 to 55,000.

The decrease has been attributed to enhanced public awareness campaigns, availability and effective use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and male circumcision, among other factors.

Tanzania Commission for Aids (TACAIDS) Executive Director Dr Leonard Maboko, noted yesterday in Dar es Salaam, however, that despite the encouraging trend, further preventive measures are still needed, including voluntary health testing, especially for the youth, who are most affected group.

He was speaking during the "Global Prevention Coalition: National Stakeholders' Consultation on HIV Prevention" meeting which gathered participants from across the world to discuss further techniques towards curbing new transmissions.

The good news about the downward trend comes at a time when the State recently announced that reliance on donors to finance programmes aimed at fighting the disease is set to go down by 36 per cent from 97 per cent within three years of operation of the AIDS Trust Fund that was introduced at the end of last year.

The Trust Fund is vital as it aims at mobilising financial resources within the country for the anti-AIDS/ HIV drive. Among the expected sources of income for the AIDS Fund would be contributions by the government, donations by private and public institutions and fund raising events.

Dr Maboko clarified that HIV prevalence was still higher among the key and vulnerable population (KVP), including men having sex with fellow men (MSM), people who inject drugs (PWID), female sex workers (FSW) and adolescent girls and young women (AGYW).

"Prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission is one of the areas in which we have been doing very well. But the situation is not yet stable among youth and the more affected group is young females than men," he said.

United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Country Director and Representative, Dr Leo Zeken, chipped in a note that low ability in decision making was a drawback amongst young females.

He explained that studies had indicated how young Tanzanian females had been forced to marry men far older than themselves, triggered by various reasons, including poverty.

"It is in this way that young girls have been lured to get into sexual intercourse with those older males at very early ages, sometimes before 15 years. Thus, we propose intensive HIV public awareness campaigns as an initial step; other measures will come second," said the Country Director.

He said that 40 per cent of females got married before turning 18, pointing out that despite the fact that awareness campaigns were a cross-cutting issue, media should play a frontline role on the community awareness sensitization front.

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