17 August 2017

Zambia: HIV Mandatory Testing Supported

Photo: Lourenço Silva/PlusNews
HIV testing (file photo).

Stakeholders have hailed President Edgar Lungu for directing that HIV/AIDS testing now be mandatory in all public health institutions.

The Zambia National Blood Transfusion Services (ZNBTS) said the mandatory test was a brilliant move that would help people know their status and begin treatment early to lessen the disease burden.

ZNBTS medical director Joseph Mulenga said the move would reduce HIV stigma and also help people who test positive commence the treatment early when the CD4 count was still high.

Dr Mulenga said this could also reduce the demand on blood transfusion as people who tested positive would be put on treatment on time as opposed to knowing their HIV status when their CD4 count was already low, meaning they would require more blood.

"The mandatory AIDS test is a brilliant idea and a step in the right direction. This means that there will be less disease burden, because the disease will be suppressed. People who test positive will be put on treatment early and will not get most of the opportunistic infections such as anemia which requires blood," he said.

Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMCR) executive director Bernadette Deka said mandatory HIV testing presented a new gateway to HIV prevention, care and treatment.

Ms Deka said the expanded access to HIV testing would provide important opportunities for ensuring universal access to knowledge of HIV, enhancing access to HIV prevention activities, including prevention of mother to child transmission, management of Sexually Transmitted Infections among others.

She said this needed to begin in the health care facilities and extended to the community and that it was important to explore health care providers' attitudes toward mandatory HIV testing for different patients and various factors associated with providers' attitudes.

"This will offer suggestions to help policy-makers design more targeted interventions to help health care providers deliver better services to People Living with HIV/AIDS in Zambia that will feed into community initiatives that will translate into significant reductions in incidence and prevalence rates.

Ms Deka said the mandatory testing would also help in improving early diagnosis of HIV and linkage to appropriate care, support and timely initiation of antiretroviral treatment (ART), in order to improve health of people living with HIV, prevents onward transmission to HIV negative partners, including vertical transmission.

The Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) in Livingstone said the move was a step in the direction in creating a generation that was free of HIV in Zambia by 2030.

YMCA secretary general Susu Chinyimbwa said young people needed to be better equipped to manage their HIV infection and take ownership of their health care.

Mr Chinyimbwa said previously in Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) the emphasis ended at encouraging people to be counseled and tested voluntarily, but with the new direction people are mandated to be tested and know their HIV status.

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