Dodoma — Tanzania officially started anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for people living with HIV after testing positive effective October last year, with the government announcing that the new arrangement targets 1.2 million victims.
The move to put all HIV victims on life-long medication comes in the wake of a directive the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave in 2015, that any HIV-positive person must immediately be put on anti-retroviral treatment regardless of CD4 count.
According the global health body, the directive emerged from studies conducted in various countries, which established that it was safer for the patients to start using the drugs before the count dropped. Before the new arrangement, the country was applying a system under which only patients whose CD4 cell count had dropped to be-low 350 qualified for the therapy.
The Deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Hamisi Kingwangalla, told Parliament that the government was keen to ensure that all heath facilities in the country had adequate ARVs.
Dr Kingwangalla also informed legislators that between July 2015 and June 2016, about 84,000 people who had tested HIV positive were enrolled for ARVs treatment. According to UNAIDS, adult HIV prevalence in Tanzania is estimated at 4.7 per cent, with regional HIV prevalence ranging from 0.2 per cent (Zanzibar) to 15.4 per cent (Njombe).
Out of a total population of over 53 million, according to the World Bank, a total of 1.4 million Tanzanians were estimated to be living with HIV in 2015. An estimated 54,000 new in Continued from Page 1 fections and 36,000 AIDS-related deaths occur in Tanzania annually.
"We will ensure that whoever is found with HIV, including children and elders, start taking the drugs straightway," the deputy minister said.
He was responding to a question from Saverina Mwijage (Special Seats-CUF) who had wanted to know if the government was really implementing its plan of offering free medical treatment to children under five as well as elders. The MP also wanted to know if people with chronic illnesses were exempted from paying for medical treatment as stipulated in the country's heath policy.
The deputy minister asserted that according to the 2007 National Health Policy, people with chronic illnesses such as tuberculosis, hypertension and HIV/AIDS, were exempted from paying for medical treatment. "The only challenge is that most public health facilities sometime run short of drugs, and compelled patients to buy them from private pharmacies," he said.
Meanwhile, the government has maintained that treatment for elders was free, and directed all District Executive Directors across the country to ensure that all senior citizens are given Community Health Fund (CHF) cards by the end of December this year.
Minister Ummy Mwalimu stressed that free treatment for elders at all public hospitals was stipulated in the national health policy.
"I have already directed all councils to ensure they enroll all elders into this health insurance system to facilitate their treatment," she said.
Earlier, deputy minister Dr Kigwangalla said any elderly person who would be forced to pay for treatment at the facilities should lodge complaints at social welfare offices, for disciplinary measures to be taken against the culprits.