Treat All: The new frontline in Botswana’s HIV/AIDS battle

AMOGELANG GOPANE

Last week PEPFAR hosted health experts, districts stakeholders and media outlets in Goodhope to share ideas on how  to improve Botswana’s HIV response towards the era of attaining an AIDS free generation under the theme “Treat All: Botswana’s Path to HIV Epidemic Control.”
With most people living in rural areas with the highest HIV rates, it has come to light that latest researches and programs do not always make it to them in time. Men are said to be still lagging behind on the safe male circumcision program.
Goodhope DHMT Head, Dr. Sarona gave an overview of the Safe Male Circumcision (SMC’s) in Goodhope Sub-District.
“Out of 26680 males in this district only 540 have performed the surgery. These numbers are very low. There is a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to spreading the massage to them,” he pointed out.
Sarona said they were facing challenges in gathering men and updating them on the latest HIV/AIDS related research and programs.
“There is a need for new platforms that should be introduced in order to reach the cattle posts and farms since it is where most of them resides. We need resources to be able to get there because there is no flow of information reaching where they spend more time at,” he said.
Botswana Combination Prevention Project (BCPP) Coordinator MoHW, Dr Refeletswe Lebelonyane said despite high coverage, there is still high incidence (new infections).
“High incidence and continued transmissions may be the result of insufficient scale, coverage and quality of proven intervention methods, therefore we as BCPP perform random tests evaluating the impact of combination prevention package on HIV incidence in 30 communities through Universal Test and Treat (UTT) following the MOHW launch of Botswana Treat All strategy on 1st June 2016,” she said.
Lebelonyane further said Botswana was close to achieving 90-90-90 coverage. “83% know their HIV status, 87% of them are on treatment and 96% of them are receiving treatment to have viral suppression. To keep the virus suppressed we need to ensure the success of UTT, it is essential that there are no barriers to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) initiation,”she added.
United States Ambassador Earl Miller said the USA stands by the commitment to treat all and all of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) investments in Botswana.
“PEPFAR is contributing $55million dollars this year  to support Botswana’s national HIV response and has agreed to increase next year’s involvement to $69 million dollars contingent on congressional approval,” he said.
He further said the funding will scale up strategies to identify HIV positive people and quickly link them to treatment such as home-based, testing and index testing where partners and family members of current clients are offered testing.
“We support the Ministry of Health and Wellness in reaching 80% males aged between 15-29 years. Goodhope is part of our current accelerated campaign to provide 8,800 adolescent boys and men with SMC by the end of August therefore we will next year inject $3.6 million dollars,” Miller added.
PEPFAR is a U.S government initiative to help save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world.
Botswana has received $750 million from PEPFAR in support of its HIV response since 2004, making the country the largest beneficiary in this regard for care and treatment services, orphan and vulnerable children programs; gender based violence initiatives and health services for female sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Practically 14 years later PEPFAR’s current commitment to universal treatment  is intended to help epidemic control in the anticipated future. PEPFAR’s core approaches are safe male circumcision, strengthening community –facility linkages , combination prevention packages, prevention for key and priority populations and health system strengthening.

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