Maputo — The Mozambican and United States governments on Tuesday announced in Maputo a joint annual plan that renews their partnership in the fight against AIDS.
The plan has a budget of about 400 million US dollars that will be invested through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Additional efforts will be made to carry prevention messages to young people aged between 15 and 29.
Speaking at the signing ceremony Health Minister Nazira Abdula said the purpose of the plan is to support the efforts of Mozambique to achieve control over the epidemic by 2020.
“The aid from PEPFAR will strengthen the action of those involved in the response to HIV/AIDS, such as the National AIDS Council, the Ministry of Health, multilateral implementation partners, civil sector and the private sector”, she said, describing the renewal of the joint plan as “an immeasurable gain” for the health sector.
The latest data on HIV/AIDS, from the IMASIDA survey of June-December 2015 showed that HIV prevalence among Mozambicans aged between 15 and 49 had increased from 11.5 per cent in 2009 to 13.2 per cent. In 2015, about 1.8 million Mozambicans were living with HIV and there were an estimated 223 new infections every day.
The worst hit provinces are in the south of the country - the prevalence rate is 24.4 per cent in Gaza, 22.9 per cent in Maputo province and 16.9 per cent in Maputo city.
Over the past decade the number of health units offering the life-prolonging anti-retroviral treatment (ARVT) has risen from 14 to 76 per cent of the total. In 2007, only 88,211 Mozambicans were receiving ARVT - today that number has risen to over a million, of whom more than 80,000 are children.
“The operational plan we are launching today”, Abdula said, “comes as a strategy to finance the response to HIV, in order to control the epidemic, with a focus on identifying HIV-positive people, speeding up access to ARVT and to male circumcision, improved retention of people undergoing treatment, and expanded access to the viral load test”.
The measures advocated under the plan, she said, will allow a further 375,000 HIV-positive citizens to be reached and treated, while retaining the 1.2 million people undergoing treatment. It will focus on the 85 worst hit districts in Gaza, Inhambane, Maputo, Niassa, Sofala and Zambezia provinces.
Special attention will be paid to Zambezia, the minister said. The prevalence rate here rose from 12.6 to 15.1 per cent between 2009 and 2015. But because of the sheer size of Zambezia (it is the second most populous province in the country), it contains a third of all known HIV-positive people (about 400,000).
In absolute terms, Zambezia has the largest number of HIV-positive people of any province, but also the lowest coverage of anti-retroviral treatment.
The US ambassador, Dean Pittman, pledged that the United States will remain a partner committed to eradicating HIV/AIDS in Mozambique and throughout the world. He said that since PEPFAR was launched, in 2003, it has put around three billion dollars into the fight against AIDS in Mozambique.
He pledged that, under the new joint plan, “we shall expand efforts to ensure that all pregnant and breastfeeding women know their HIV status, in order to prevent the transmission of the disease to new-born infants. Mothers living with HIV should receive the treatment they deserve in order to live healthy lives and prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies”.
In addition to treating people living with HIV, “we also need to prevent new infections”, said Pittman. “To this end, in 2018 we shall concentrate on protecting the population groups at high risk of catching the virus”.
These groups, he added, included young people in general, but also sex workers and their clients, gay men, prisoners and migrant workers.