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Malawi’s success with prevention, treatment can’t be ignored

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Picture: Population Based HIV Assessment PHIA Project UNAids says new HIV infections in Malawi have decreased by 61 percent. However, in sub-Saharan Africa six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents, aged 15-19 years, are among girls.

By Maria Konokhova

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains a major global public health issue, having claimed about 40 million lives globally. In 2021, 38.4 million people were living with HIV, two-thirds of whom were from Africa.

“In most countries across Africa and, in particular, in Malawi, HIV incidence has been decreasing due to global efforts aimed at improving HIV/Aids treatment adherence and reducing HIV transmission,” said Adamson S Muula, professor and head of community and environmental health at the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, Malawi.

On May 18, the world observed Aids Vaccine Day, aimed at raising awareness about the need for an HIV/Aids vaccine. Muula highlighted that “even without a vaccine, which, if available, would have been a game-changer”, the world can still recognise that HIV incidence has been declining in recent years.

He cited official statistics indicating that adult HIV prevalence in Malawi stood at 8 percent, a major decrease from 14 percent registered about a decade ago. According to Muula, success in the fight against HIV has been achieved “through a multi-sectoral and global effort”, including biomedical and non-biomedical interventions.

He said that the most critical intervention was the availability of antiretroviral treatment. The use of combined antiretroviral therapy (ART) is aimed at effectively suppressing the viral load and preserving immune function. The WHO report indicated that, in 2017, 15.3million people living with HIV in Africa were accessing lifesaving antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which represented 70 percent of the 21.7million people who were accessing antiretrovirals globally.

The professor also pointed to a decrease in HIV infections among newborns, explaining that “this has been due to the almost universal HIV testing for pregnant mothers” in the countries with the highest rates of the disease and for the provision of HIV treatment for those found to be infected. Despite the major improvements and progress made, he underlined that there were some issues that were of great concern, including the fact that women and adolescents represented a growing share of people living with HIV.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNaids), six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years in sub-Saharan Africa are among girls. Girls and women aged 15 to 24 years are twice as likely to be living with the disease than young men. In 2021, girls and women accounted for 63 percent of all new HIV infections in the region. Muula said that HIV-infected men also “continue to be under-served”, as many of them faced various barriers and hindrances trying to gain lifesaving access to health services.

The professor also touched upon the issue of HIV discrimination, highlighting that “the battle is not fully won on this front’”. However, he underscored that the progress was remarkable, as “more and more people are accepting and tolerant towards each other”.

This article was first published on Sputnik