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Kagera gets slight increase in new HIV infections

HUMAN Immunodeficiency Virus(HIV) infections among patients who test for the first time and found positive, also known as HIV positivity rate, has slightly increased from 1. 2 per cent recorded last year to 3.3 per cent between January to September this year.

The number of AIDS deaths, on the other hand, dropped from 4,500 deaths recorded during 2010 to 1,200 deaths last year. HIV/AIDS Regional Coordinator, Dr Jonas Kessy explained that the increase was due to people who turn up for voluntary testing for HIV.

“We are currently using both Index Testing (IT) whereby sexual partners are also reached and Target Testing (TT) for those in high risk,” he said. While HIV positivity rate during 2014 stood at 6.1 per cent, it dropped to 4.0 per cent during 2015; 2.5 per cent (2016); 1.6 per cent (2017) down to 1.2 per cent last year.

The achievement was due to improved testing and antiretroviral treatment (ART) enrollment with improved care and treatment, resulting into many clients being virally suppressed hence few deaths occur. Dr Kessy explained that HIV prevalence rate (both old and new cases) for Kagera Region stood at 6.5 per cent.

Kagera Regional Commissioner Marco Gaguti appealed to the region’s residents not to relax in the fight against HIV/ AIDS because the disease was still there silently killing millions of people worldwide.

“As we meet today, millions of people are dying every day due to HIV/AIDS. Tanzanians should not relax in the fight against HIV/AIDS. More efforts still needed to ensure that the disease is totally controlled by 2030, also appealing to people to donate blood in order to save more lives. Scaling-up access to antiretroviral treatment has helped Tanzania minimize the impact of the epidemic”.

As a result, between 2010 and 2015, the number of new infections declined by more than 20 per cent and the number of people dying from an AIDSrelated illness halved. Over the last decade, Tanzania has increased its efforts to get more people testing for HIV.

The number of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) sites in the country has rapidly expanded to 2,137. According to the 2010-2011 Malaria and AIDS Indicator Survey, more than 90 per cent of people knew where to get an HIV test.

In 2013, Tanzania introduced new HIV testing approaches such as home-based testing and community testing. Provider initiated testing, when a health care provider specifically recommends an HIV test to someone attending a health facility and performs the test unless the patient declines, has also been introduced.

Data from the THMIS 2010-2011 indicates that 67 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men had been tested for HIV at least once. However, Tanzania’s UNAIDS 2014 progress report found in 2013 only 28.4 per cent of people aged 15-49 had taken an HIV test in the past 12 months and knew their results.

Furthermore, testing rates are declining, as this figure stood at 35.4 per cent in 2012. Tanzania has made significant gains in the scale-up of its antiretroviral (ART) programmes, with the number of people on ART steadily increasing since 2010.

The percentage of adults (aged 15 and over) living with HIV in Tanzania and receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) stood at 63 per cent in 2016. When split by gender, this equates to 62 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men living with HIV receiving ART.

In total, 688,600 adults were receiving ART in 2015, compared to 500,000 in 2013. In 2016, 48 per cent of children (aged 0-14) living with HIV were receiving ART. This equates to around 51,400 children. In 2013, 1209 health facilities were providing HIV treatment–equating to three facilities per 100,000 people.

The government has begun to simplify drug regimens and move to fixed-dose combinations (FDC) and phase out toxic drugs such as Stavudine. In addition, new guidelines are being issued to increase eligibility and access to ART to zero-discordant couples, all pregnant women living with HIV and key affected populations.

Despite this progress fundamental challenges remain. Tanzania has started using Dolutegravir (DTG), as a new and most effective drug in suppressing HIV/AIDS in the human body. GTG is on World Health Organisation (WHO) list of essential medicines, the most effective and safe medicine needed in a health system.

Tanzania is now among 82 countries with low and middle incomes to start treating HIV/ AIDS using DTG. Deputy Minister for Health Dr Faustine Ndugulile said the use of the drug has demonstrated positive changes. DTG medicine is used with a mix of drugs namely Tenofovir 300mg, Lamivudine 300 mg and Dolutegravir 50 mg (in short TLD).

Dolutegravir is a new medicine that has now started to be used n the country instead of the previous Efavirenz. Dr Ndugulile noted that DTG medicine is the most effective in suppressing HIV/ AIDS infections. However, he warned that HIV/AIDS patients are advised not to stop using antiretroviral drugs and protecting gear against HIV/AIDS even if they have suppressed the disease.

The use of the new medicine in Tanzania started in March, this year. The Tanzanian Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) has identified a number of challenges relating to the scale-up of ART–including limited financial resource base for ART and for testing, weak supply chain management systems, and poor drug management and drug stock-outs.

About 37 million people globally are living with HIV out of who 19 million are in Eastern and Southern African regions. In 2015 about 36.7 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 1.1 million deaths. In 2016, 1.4 million people were living with HIV in Tanzania.

This equates to an estimated HIV prevalence of 4.7 per cent. In the same year, 55,000 people were newly infected with HIV, and 33,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness. Most of those infected live in Sub-Sahara Africa. Between its discovery and 2014, AIDS has caused an estimated 39 million deaths worldwide.

UNAIDS 2015 report revealed that Tanzania had succeeded to reduce new HIV/AIDS infections among adults from 72,000 cases during 2013, 69,000 cases during 2014 down to 48,000 cases during 2015.

Also, new infections among children dropped from 67,000 cases during 2010 to 56,000 cases during 2015. The report also indicated that about 1.4 million Tanzanians were living with HIV while those under Anti Retrovials (ARVs) were about 800,000.

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