Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
BULAWAYO increased coverage of people on life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) to 80%, including pregnant women who could have easily transmitted HIV to their newborns.
The province has also recorded considerable success in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) where it can be noted that all women who tested HIV-positive during antenatal care, labor and delivery , and postpartum were initiated on ART. .
Bulawayo has the third highest HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe at 13.77%, which is also higher than the national average of 11.8%.
Matabeleland South has the highest prevalence rate at 20%.
There are approximately 86,190 people living with HIV in Bulawayo.
According to the National Aids Council Bulawayo third quarter 2021 report, 66,461 people are currently on ART, up from 65,819 in the second quarter.
“ART coverage in the current quarter stands at 80.6%, indicating an increase in ART provision in the province compared to previous quarters.
ART is provided in various public and private health facilities and people continue to access pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) in key centers across the province,” said Ms. Sinatra Nyathi, provincial head of the NAC.
“The steady increase in ART provision is in line with the country’s position to put at least 90% of HIV-positive people on ART as we move towards ending AIDS by 2030.”
Statistics show that the northern district of Bulawayo continues to have the highest number of ART clients as it hosts the largest referral hospital, Mpilo referral hospital, which receives clients from within and outside the province.
The NAC has divided Bulawayo into five districts: North Bulawayo, South Bulawayo, Nkulumane, Luveve and Emakhandeni.
“The district hosts at least 32% of the total number of ART clients, while Luveve district accounts for at least 9% of the total number of ART clients in the province.
The remaining districts – Emakhandeni, Bulawayo South and Nkulumane districts make up the rest of the customers,” she said.
Despite the prolonged Covid-19 restrictions which led to the curtailment of many community activities, Ms Nyathi said implementing partners have shown resilience and come up with new innovations.
“The province has had considerable success in the area of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) where it can be noted that all women who tested positive for HIV during antenatal care, labor and delivery, after delivery were initiated on ART.
The province saw a significant reduction in the positivity rate from 5.24% in the first quarter to 4.65% in the third quarter,” she said.
Ms Nyathi added that the number of people tested for the first time increased by 1,270, from 5,804 in the previous quarter to 7,074 in the third quarter.
Contacted for comment, Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director Dr Maphios Siamuchembu said the increase comes on top of milestones Bulawayo continues to achieve in the healthcare sector.
He said people on ART should adhere to their medications to achieve viral suppression that will help the country end AIDS by 2030.
“The overall goal is to eliminate AIDS-related deaths by 2030. So this improvement in ART coverage is just one attempt to achieve those goals.
This is a testament to the fact that our health workers and partners are working hard despite the many challenges, Dr Siamuchembu said.
“We thank them and congratulate the health care workers and all ministry partners in the province.
It is unfortunate that in 2022 anyone in Zimbabwe will die of HIV since we have free antiretroviral treatment and nowadays people are more aware which explains the reduced stigma on HIV related issues.
Dr Siamuchembu said residents should use proven HIV prevention methods to reduce the number of new infections.
These methods are condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, PrEP and abstinence.
“Those starting antiretroviral therapy should really stick to their treatment protocols so that treatment doesn’t fail, they are virally suppressed, live healthy lives, and don’t pass HIV on to others,” a- he declared.
Dr Siamuchembu also applauded residents for the high participation rate in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, with Bulawayo being the top province in terms of coverage.
On Tuesday, coverage stood at 51.8% for the first and second doses.
“Reports clearly show that the Bulawayo Metropolitan Province is leading in vaccination against covid-19.
Again, this is a testament to the hard work of health workers in the province, especially at Bulawayo City Health Department under the leadership of Dr Edwin Sibanda, Central Hospitals under the interim CEOs and some hospitals and private clinics.
Once again, I am extremely grateful to these people and proud of their work as they raise the Bulawayo flag high,” he added.
Bulawayo also became the first city in Zimbabwe to join the Paris Fast Track Cities Declaration, an initiative to help cities commit to ending AIDS by 2030.
The city last year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) and its partners to join more than 300 cities around the world that have committed to the initiative to intensify efforts to end the pandemic.