THE National AIDS Council says the government is aiming at empowering women to protect themselves against HIV infection in setups where they lack negotiation power for safe protected sex through, among other interventions the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
And NAC communications manager Justin Mwiinga says first lady Esther Lungu will on April 11 launch the Zambia Ending AIDS campaign and Free to Shine campaign in Livingstone.
Mwiinga said PrEP which was introduced in Zambia last year is an additional HIV prevention method to protect high risk populations against infection from the virus.
“In the case of women, it is meant to empower them against infection in setups where they lack negotiation power for safe protected sex,” he said.
Following the World Health Organisation recommendation in September 2015 that oral PrEP should be offered as an additional prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV infection as part of combination HIV approaches, the Ministry of Health included PrEP in the 2016 consolidated HIV prevention and treatment guidelines which were later expanded in 2017.
PrEP is the use of ARV drugs by HIV uninfected persons to prevent the acquisition of HIV before exposure to the virus.
People on PrEP take a pill containing two ARVs every day to help prevent HIV infection.
According to the implementation framework and guidance for PrEP of HIV infection 2018, by taking ARVs every day, people on PrEP have ARVs in their body and that way when they are exposed to HIV the virus cannot survive in their body and they do not get infected.
When PrEP is taken every day, it can reduce a person’s risk of getting HIV by over 90 per cent.
WHO recommends that oral PrEP (containing tenofovir plus emtricitabine – TDF/FTC) should be offered as an additional prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV infection as part of the combination prevention approaches.
It stated that these additional comprehensive package of prevention services include HIV testing, counselling and knowing a partner’s status, correct use of male and female condoms, ARV treatment for partner with HIV infection; voluntary medical male circumcision; treating STIs and reducing the number of sexual partners and the use of alcohol amongst others.
It states that pregnant and breastfeeding women, often remain at substantial and increased risk of HIV acquisition during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
It states that PrEP is key intervention for sero- discordant couples especially where an HIV positive partner is not virally suppressed. PrEP is a useful tool for couples who wish to conceive a child while minimising the risk of HIV transmission to the HIV negative partner.
On PrEP for adolescent and young people, it states that there is need to create an enabling environment such as flexible hours and peer groups with sensitisation training for staff on how to provide youth friendly and inclusive services as facilities offering PrEP is a first step.
Meanwhile, speaking at the end of a two-day media training on the two campaigns, Mwiinga said the first lady will launch the Zambia Ending AIDS campaign, a government-led programme aimed at contributing to the global goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
He said it has focus on prevention with three aspects of HIV prevention namely condom programming, PrEP as well as antiretroviral therapy.
“So we are starting this campaign on these three and I would like to acknowledge the support coming from US DISCOVER health who are our initial partners to help us kick-start this national Zambian led campaign of Zambia Ending AIDS,” he said.
Mwiinga said the second component of the campaign was the Free to Shine campaign which is an initiative of African first ladies under the auspices of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against AIDS and has the full support of the African Union.
Mwiinga said the campaign focuses on ending childhood AIDS and keeping mothers alive and healthy.
“African first ladies were and are still concerned about the continuing occurrence of HIV in children and they came up with an initiative to complement their respective governments. In our case first lady Esther Lungu is automatically leading this campaign in her capacity as first lady of Zambia. Zambia is her constituency and she is complimenting government efforts in ensuring that we end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030,” he said.
Mwiinga disclosed that the first ladies of Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana had confirmed their attendance of the launch in Livingstone.