This year’s theme of World Aids Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility” proposed by a Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids. World Aids Day is marked on December 1, each year.
This global event is an opportunity for public and private partners to raise public awareness about the status of the deadly disease and encourage progress in HIV/Aids prevention, treatment and care across the world.
World leaders have set the 2020 “Fast-track” targets to accelerate the HIV/Aids response and to “end HIV/Aids by 2030”. According to UNAIDS 2020 estimates, about 1.7 million Tanzanians are living with HIV/ Aids (PLWHA), as the global figure stands at 38 million people.
At least 81 per cent of PLWHA know their health status and the rest do not. Two out of three PLWHA are on an antiretroviral therapy. Only 59 per cent of people living with HIV/Aids have undetectable levels of the virus.
TUNAIDS calls for governments, donors, religious leaders, civil society organisations and every person to contribute to making the world a healthier and better place for all. In Tanzania, the war on HIV/Aids transmission and stigmatisation has got a new impetus.
This is after the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported a five-year programme which will be implemented by the National Council of PLWHA (Nacopha).
The programme is named ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ (Let us mend it) which will focus on sensitising, finding and using right services for HIV/Aids in over 65 district councils in 24 regions of Tanzania.
In an interview with ‘Daily News’ in Dar es salaam recently, Nacopha Chairperson Leticia Mourice said sponsorship focused on bringing about positive results in addressing HIV/ Aids in the country.
“This programme aims at promoting discussions in the country at all levels to know and highlight areas of prevention, caring for most risky groups in the fight against the effects of HIV/Aids,” she said.
Ms Mourice explained that Nacopha had learnt that the youth and women were at high risk, as new infections affected 40 per cent of the youth aged between 15 and 25 years, who needed more education on how to protect themselves against the new infections, while PLWHA were helped to know what to do, including fighting effectively against HIV/Aids.
“Therefore, this programme aims at encouraging testing of 95 per cent of all PLWHA, 95 per cent of all PLWHA in Tanzania access ARVs and suppress the disease by 2030,” Ms Mourice described.
The chairperson of Nacopha in ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ project implementation noted that three forms of stigmatisation would be addressed.
“There is self-stigmatisation, stigma in health services and stigma in interpersonal relationships among PLWHA. Stigma delays the efforts of combating the disease,” she noted.
To this end, Ms Mourice said the project would involve religious leaders as given the nature of their work they were close to a wider community in addressing stigmatisation among PLWHA and sensitising mass testing.
The Nacopha chairperson expressed her gratitude to the government for setting minimal voluntary HIV/Aids testing to 15 years old from the previous 18 years old. However, there are still challenges in the war on the global epidemic as not all people cooperate.
This is after the fact that men and the youth are not aware if they are infected or not.
“Even those who know their health status, do not use ARVs to suppress the virus and stop it from spreading to others,” said Mr Riziki, Nacopha programme officer.
He said women were in the frontline of testing, using ARVs and ending stigmatisation, which is part of the global target to end HIV/Aids transmission by 2030 by achieving 95 per cent testing, 95 per cent use of ARVs for PLWHA and ending stigma.
“Men head households. They must know their status, motivate other family members to take part in testing and take right steps. This can be easily achieved if clerics use their pulpits to insist this to men,” he added.
Nacopha banks much on the role of religious leaders in this war and they must be aware that strong houses of worship depend on healthy congregations. The call is that they should avoid giving misleading sermons on how to fight against HIV/ Aids.
The project of fighting HIV/ Aids infections is under the name ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’, sponsored by USAID. It will be implemented in 22 regions of Mainland Tanzania for five years starting from this year.
In Tabora Region, ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ programme has reached out to PLWHIV where it seeks to meet basic needs especially encouraging eating balanced diets to increase immunity and the body’s ability to battle the virus.
Upendo Group in Tabora and Faraja Group which are made up of PLWHIV, who repair motorcycles as a way of earning a living and in milling cereals, were given working tools through a programme under USAID’s custodianship.
Ms Mourice insisted that ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ had learnt that the youth and women, who are also the main income earners and sources of labour force of the country, were at high risk. She explained that the new infections affected 40 per cent of the youth aged between 15 and 25 years, who needed more education on how to protect themselves against new infections while those already infected were to know what to do, including suppressing the virus.
“We aim at encouraging testing of 95 per cent of all PLWHA, ensure 95 per cent of all PLWHA in Tanzania access ARVs and suppress the virus by 2030,” Ms Mourice noted.
In the wake of Covid-19 effects in relation to the spread of HIV/Aids, it is evident that more efforts are needed, especially for the youth to fight against it. Ms Mourice explained that cases of a surge in the number of pregnant schoolgirls during the Covid-19 school closure, necessitated a need for change in the curriculum, religious sermons and upbringing as regards unsafe early sexual intercourse.
Studies suggest that the youth and women are at high risk, as the new infections affect 40 per cent of the youth aged between 15 and 25 years, who need more education on how to protect themselves against the new infections while those already infected are to know what to do, including suppressing the virus.
Under USAID support, ‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ programme aims at promoting discussions in the Tanzanian community at all levels to know and highlight areas of prevention, caring for those infected most at risk groups in the war on effects of HIV/Aids infections,” she said.
This programme aims at encouraging testing of 95 per cent of all infected people and ensure 95 per cent of all positive Tanzanians access ARVs and suppress the disease by 2030. F o r h e r part, Nacopha Communications Manager Lulu Kansary said to reach out to the majority of the population, the programme would use community influencers and songs with educational jingles in community radios in urban and rural communities.
“The programme may as well use songs and plays depending on where we want to take the message to. It also uses religious leaders who are highly respected in society,” she explained.
‘Hebu Tuyajenge’ Programme will take place in 22 regions of Mainland Tanzania which will be 65 districts and 325 wards. It aims at cementing the government’s efforts of reversing HIV/Aids war and its effects. Community engagement programmes will also engage the whole community - men, women, adolescents, children and the youth themselves.
They will be grouped through PLWHA groups and clusters to grassroots. Other important activities will include gardening, nutritional education, follow-ups on quality ART, educational and proper use of condoms. There will be also entrepreneurship education to bring economic wellbeing among PLWHA and those who are not.
To complement these efforts, Nacopha reached out to Muslim clerics in Morogoro Region and appealed to them to spearhead the HIV/Aids fight among men and the youth who were delaying the efforts of curbing the virus and its effects on the country.
Mr Jovin Riziki, coordinator of Nacopha Faith Community Initiative believes religious leaders are more effective to help men and boys curb the transmission of HIV/Aids.
“Some men and boys are not aware if they are infected or not. Even those who know their health status do not use ARVs to suppress the virus and stop it from spreading to others,” said Mr Riziki.
He said women were in the frontline of testing, using ARVs and ending stigmatisation.