November 25, 2022

Zim’s non-communicable disease burden threatens HIV gains

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Mirirai Nsingo

NON-Communicable Diseases (NCDS) have emerged as a new threat in the fight against HIV/AIDS amid reports that more people living with HIV are being diagnosed with diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Speaking during a media tour at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals on Thursday, AIDS  Health Foundation (AHF) medical officer, Dr Pascal Shamba said ailments such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension were the most common non-communicable diseases (NCDS) threatening to reverse HIV gains.

“With people now living longer owing to the success of antiretroviral therapy in the country, we are now seeing the emergence of non-communicable diseases in people living with HIV.

“Now the challenge is the catastrophic costs that come with the management of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, while antiretroviral treatment is for free, the treatment of these NCDS is not for free hence this is a challenge to most patients.

“The issue of access and affordability of treatment of these diseases now becomes a challenge and so you will see that some end up dying because they cannot access treatment,” Dr Shamba told journalists.

The country has made significant gains in HIV response owing to a successful antiretroviral therapy national programme which was rolled out in 2004.

Dr Shamba’s NCDs warning comes in the wake of a call by Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro to incorporate NCDs in HIV management to arrest the challenge.

“While we incorporate NCDs in our HIV response, we also need our local scientists to research more on the links between HIV and some ailments such as diabetes, hypertension among others.”

Supported by AHF, Parirenyatwa’s Opportunistic Infection clinic as of June 2022 had 5 620 clients with Dr Shamba adding the centre had reached 95 percent HIV viral load suppression and fears the NCDs threat could derail HIV gains.

AHF is also supporting other facilities like Sally Mugabe Central Hospital and Glen View Polyclinic in the provision of HIV services.

This comes as the country adopted the United Nations AIDS programme 90-90-90 targets that sought to have 90 percent of all people living with HIV know their HIV status by 2020, have 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy while 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy having a suppressed viral load.

Explaining why clients end up on second and third line ART, DR Shamba urged all people on ART to adhere to their medication to reduce the chances of resistance.

“Our goal is for people living with HIV to lead a life that is normal and it is now possible because of antiretroviral therapy. Once a patient gets a resistant mutation, their viral load will start to be affected and suffer virological failure.

“After virological failure, their immunity starts to be affected hence the need to switch to the next line of ART.”

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