KASANE: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) country representative in Botswana, Blake Chrystal, has credited the use of anti-retroviral therapy in the global milestones achieved in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic fight so far.
“There were 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2014, but that number was down from 1.3 million the previous year and from a peak of two million in 2005. The actual number of new infections has also decreased to two million in 2014 compared with 2.1 million in 2013 and 3.1 million at their peak in 2000,” he said officially opening the two-day New Directions in Global Health held at the Mowana Safari Lodge.
New Directions in Global Health is a series of road show seminars that bring public health experts together with district stakeholders and Botswana media outlets to exchange information on the research, best practises and successes in the response to HIV and other global health concerns.
The two-day seminar was organised by the interagency team from the US government in partnership with the Chobe District multi-sectoral AIDS committee. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) are also partners.
One of the goals of New Directions is to create dialogue with the media and district stakeholders outside of Gaborone on the successes and best practises of the US government funded health initiatives, programmes and research and to influence key policy makers at the district level to increase commitment in the response to HIV/AIDS.
Chrystal hailed countries like Botswana for providing life-saving treatment to people who needed the therapy.
The numbers of people on HIV treatment worldwide have doubled in five years from 7.5 million in 2010 to 15.8 million.
“These figures tell us that something we are doing is working. They also give us hope for the future,” he said.
He emphasised that what was important is not only maintaining these successes, but also aggressively seeking new prevention and treatment
“Our investments in Botswana have shifted to become more focused on the hardest hit geographic areas and on the most impactful activities,” he said adding that the overall aim of this shift is working with partners to help Botswana achieve epidemic control by 2018.
Chrystal was steadfast that to reach the mammoth task within two years, stakeholders needed to focus on the right things in the right place and do them right now. Doing the right things meant offering HIV treatment to anyone living with the HIV virus.
“Moving towards earlier initiation of treatment is strongly supported by recent international randomised clinical trial called start trial which found HIV-infected individuals on early treatment have considerably lower risk of developing AIDS or other serious illnesses than those who delay initiation.”
Other right things that Chrystal noted included ensuring life-long treatment for HIV positive pregnant women, regardless of their CD4 count - a programme that helps prevent new infections among children, saves mothers’ lives, reduces the number of orphans and is cost-effective.
The new approach also emphasises on targeting the right groups of people who stand to benefit the most.
Chrystal noted that acting now was in line with the World AIDS Day theme of, “ The Time To Act Is Now.” He said the theme conveys the urgency of implementing the UNAIDS fast-track strategy to achieve 90-90-90 targets and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. “The longer we wait the harder it is going to be to beat the epidemic,” he said, encouraging stakeholders to work very hard to achieve the set targets.