Hands Up for HIV Treatment: Zambians to Save Lives through Adoption of Test & Start for HIV Treatment
By the United States Ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz.
Zambia embarked this week on a bold move to keep HIV positive individuals healthy, and prevent the further spread of HIV, by adopting the World Health Organization’s recommended approach of treat-all HIV-positive persons with antiretroviral therapy (ART). This approach, commonly known as “Test & Start” or “Test & Treat”, has officially been launched in Zambia on a nationwide basis.
The U.S. Government proudly supports Zambia’s adoption of Test & Treat—with the Ministry of Health at the helm. Zambia has received more than $3 billion for its HIV response through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) since the program started in Zambia in 2004. At that time, only 3,500 Zambians had access to ART. Today, nearly 700,000 people are on life-saving ART.
Test & Treat means that all HIV infected persons will be advised to begin ART immediately after a HIV positive diagnosis. Zambia has been piloting Test & Treat in Livingstone, Lusaka and Mazabuka districts with a great success in identifying more HIV infected persons, and increasing the number of people on ART and who are virally suppressed (meaning treatment is working – there is a low level of the HIV virus, reducing the risk of developing an HIV-related disease and spreading the disease).
This is exciting. Adopting Test & Treat nationally will give all HIV positive individuals a chance at a higher quality life and a lower risk of spreading HIV. However, the success of Test & Treat and realizing an AIDS-free generation is up to each and every Zambian.
Here is what you can do: find out your HIV status, get on treatment immediately if you are HIV positive, and encourage everyone you know to do the same. I would like to emphasize that there is no shame in being HIV positive. HIV is an illness that can be controlled thanks to ART and now, Test & Treat.
For Test & Treat to be successful, quality services, including HIV services, must be truly available to all. Services must be extended without reservation or judgment, no matter an individual’s HIV status, age, gender, ability, or sexual orientation. Health care providers must provide high quality HIV services to every individual and keep all cases confidential. People must be able to access services in confidence.
Zambians have the ability to contribute greatly to ending the AIDS epidemic in this country by 2030. Your role in the success of Test and Treat is critical to helping achieve the UNAIDS global goal of 90-90-90 by 2020: i.e., 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive life-long antiretroviral therapy; and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. These targets aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The U.S. Government proudly supports Zambia—and is by far the largest contributor to this nation’s HIV response. I look forward to continuing to work with the Zambian government and seeing the impact of Test & Treat.
I close with a call to action and a reminder that Test & Treat’s success depends on every Zambian doing their part. What will you do to end HIV in Zambia?