First Lady pushes for HIV, hepatitis B, syphilis elimination

ZANZIBAR First Lady Maryam Mwinyi has challenged health personnel particularly nurses and medical doctors to work harder so as to attain the target of eliminating  mother to child transmission of  HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis  come 2030.

“Members of the public and couples should also support the ongoing initiatives by ensuring that, expectant mothers attend antenatal clinic once they find that they are pregnant so that the baby can be protected from HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis infection if the mother is infected,” she said.

The First Lady’s speech was read, on her behalf, by Minister of State President’s Office (Finance and Planning) Dr Saada Mkuya Salum at the launch of ‘Advocacy Strategy for Eliminating Transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B, and Syphilis (ZaFLAS 3E) from parent to child in Zanzibar.

She encouraged male parents to escort their partners to antenatal clinic as part of their support and care to the expectant mothers.

Isles Health Minister Mr Nassor Ahmed Mazrui said that the government is fully committed to implement the five-year project to ensure zero transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B, and Syphilis to the child.

He thanked the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for supporting the program, which may also help in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

The minister noted that it is possible for isles to achieve the target because Zanzibar has already recorded huge progress against in the fight against Malaria and HIV whereby the prevalence rate at national level is below one percent.

“We need to direct more efforts in the fight against maternal and infant mortality,” she said.

Speaking during the event, UNAIDS Country Director Dr Martin Odit said that he was happy to be engaged in the campaign, involving two strategies, which are ‘Zanzibar First Lady Advocacy Strategy for Elimination of MTCT of HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis B (ZaFLAS 3E: 2022 – 2025)’ and ‘Zanzibar Strategic Plan for Eliminating PTCT of HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis B (3E-PTCT: 2022 – 2025).’

He said  the two strategies are aligned with the new “Global Health Sector Strategies on, respectively, HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections for the period 2022-2030, and that given their interdependence, it is essential that implementation of the strategies is aligned with newer and updated guidance and mechanisms that address health and overall wellbeing of women, children, adolescents.

“Zanzibar has managed to keep HIV prevalence below one percent for the last three decades; and has made great progress in PMTCT of HIV, however, new HIV cases among children were 19 in 2020, and 26 in 2021,” Dr Odit said, emphasizing that no child should get infected.

He said that experiences and lessons from PMTCT/EMTCT of HIV have pushed the world to expand the idea of working simultaneously to eliminate vertical transmission of other infections- congenital Syphilis and HBV.

The UNAIDS country director said “the idea to address more than one disease together sets a great precedent and calls for acceleration of efforts to even further integration of health services delivery. We now have national guiding tools at hand to use- the two strategies, with a three-year action plan and its M&E framework.”

He commended the First Lady Mama Maryam Mwinyi for accepting to champion the crucial national initiative, and that it is key that the Zanzibar government bring together all partners and stakeholders – from across all sectors – in this five-year engagement.

Dr Odit  further said that, high-level political commitment and bold actions,  to increase domestic resource mobilization and allocation to the initiative is critical, adding that focus should be on identifying – through critical, visionary analysis – and collectively addressing priority, high-impact gaps policy, programmatic.

“Continuous monitoring, evaluation and learning is critical throughout implementation. There is a need to regularly review/improve existing tools including the drafted Action Plan and the M&E Framework,” Odit said.

Dr Odit called on and advised Zanzibar to establish a national mechanism that is informed by WHO guidance on the structure, criteria and processes for validation of EMTCT of HIV, syphilis and HBV, and that UNAIDS looks forward to being part of the next steps; implementation of the strategies and achieving the ultimate goal of EMTCT of the three diseases.

Dr Amour Mohamed Suleiman- Director General, Isles Health Ministry says the elimination campaign is timely because in some countries HIV, Hepatitis B, and syphilis are regarded as serious threats to the development of health of the people.

Dr Salum Slim, Director Preventive Services, Ministry of Health said that the engagement of the First Lady shows political will, and that medical practitioners and other stakeholders should remain optimistic about achieving the objectives of having no child born with HIV, Hepatitis B, and syphilis come 2030.

He said that the integration of the health problems is vital in addressing the existing gaps in mitigating the HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B, “We are also ready to work as a team to ensure the mother-to-child transmission turns to be issue of the past in Zanzibar.”

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