AFRICA. Zambia: The Zambian Health Minister, Sylvia Masebo, has disclosed that 60 per cent of the Zambians living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are female and among them 40 per cent of them are between the ages of 15 to 24.
Masebo made this known to newsmen while delivering a speech at this year’s national HIV testing, counselling, and treatment day, saying that in 2021 alone the country recorded 38,000 cases of HIV.
“Of enormous concern is new HIV infections, which are still unacceptably high. You may know that last year alone, we had 38,000 new HIV infections. Nearly 40% of these new infections were in adolescents and young people aged between 15 and 24 years with 11,000 of the cases being all new HIV infections in Adolescent Girls and Young Women,” she said.
Masebo added, “We certainly cannot afford to have new HIV infections, especially in the young people who are the future of this country. The rise of new infections in adolescents and young people is attributed to various factors such as high-risk behaviours, early sexual debut, poor adherence to treatment, and a tendency not to test for HIV, alcohol, and other drug abuses. I wish to urge adolescents and young people to refrain from high-risk behaviours that predispose them to contract HIV.”
Masebo further stated that seven per cent of every patient got infected at a very tender age while still breastfeeding. She, therefore, attributed the surge in the positive case to unprotected sex. She, therefore, calls for government and individual efforts in curtailing the further spread of the virus.
“I, therefore, call on you all our young people to use platforms that have been purposefully set for them, such as adolescent-friendly safe spaces in public health facilities that provide comprehensive health services for you,” Masebo said.
It will be very significant if the government of the day will implement pre-testing for women to find out their HIV status during pregnancy and also at a delivery point, Masebo said.
She also urged every HIV-negative woman and breastfeeding mother who are very vulnerable to HIV to always use protective means by taking pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Another fact to note is that the HIV epidemic in Zambia affects more women than men, with at least 60% of all persons living with HIV in Zambia being females. This is attributed to many factors among them, including cultural and socioeconomic vulnerabilities that women face.
Further, the high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) are contributing significantly to the new infections as it creates barriers for women to access care and preventive services. It is sad to note that HIV and AIDS-related deaths mostly affect men because of their poor healthcare-seeking behaviour. We note men delay in accessing and utilizing HIV testing, counselling, and treatment services as they opt to test by proxy, based on their partner’s status.
“This is a practice which should not be encouraged because of the possibility of zero-discordance among couples. You can only know your HIV status by taking an HIV test and not through somebody else,” Masebo added.
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