The Government of Zambia, through the Ministry of Health, with support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched the Western Province. This follows the National Launch of the Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) Campaign by Zambian President, H.E. Edgar Lungu on 8th May 2019.
Speaking during the launch, Western Province Minister, Hon. Richard Kapita reiterated that “this launch reaffirms government’s commitment to build on the gains made towards reducing the incidence rate of HIV. The achievement of HIV/AIDS epidemic control is vital to the country’s aspirations of improving the health of the people. During this campaign, the attention of the public will be drawn to the benefits of achieving undetectable viral load in individuals living with HIV which includes contributing to the ongoing efforts of controlling the spread of HIV infections, preventing ill health and improving wellness. It is also hoped that communities and families will be stimulated to take greater responsibility for their own health”.
This was in the speech read on his behalf by Western Province Deputy Permanent Secretary Danny Bukali.
Hon Kapita said results from the Zambia Population based HIV Impact Assessment, Western Province had one of the highest HIV prevalence in the country and one of the lowest viral suppression rates..
He said the campaign launch was a follow up to the HIV Surge Campaign which was launched late year, in an effort to reverse the growing HIV epidemic and energise actions towards achieving its control by 2020 through committing to identifying 90% of people living with HIV, commence 90% of those identified on treatment and further ensure HIV is suppressed in 90% of those on treatment.
“As a province we have recorded significant progress in achieving these 90:90:90 targets and we are grateful to the strategic partnership of the United States government through PEPFAR and CDC support as well as through the support of all affiliated organisations active in the HIV programme in Western Province. The U=U campaign being launched today will boost the gains realized under the Surge Campaign thus far and accelerate progress towards realizing HIV epidemic control in the province. For people living with HIV to attain viral load suppression, they should know their HIV status by undergoing HIV testing, be initiated on treatment early, take medication regularly as advised by healthcare providers and know whether you are virally suppressed by taking a viral load test at an appointed time”, Hon Kapita said.
And CDC Country Director, Dr Simon Agolory said someone living with HIV and are on adhering to treatment effectively can live a normal life with infecting their husband or wife and have HIV negative children. What is exciting is that people living with HIV can live longer lives without the fear of dying from HIV. This is the message we are bringing this morning, the message of hope. In the face of change, we now have the evidence and we want everyone to go and share this in their communities with their families, friends and neighbours because we are in an era of hope.
And the Barotse Royal Establishment Representative Induna Namamba says the U=U Campaign gives hope for a cure for HIV. “We are grateful to the Ministry of Health for engaging us throughout the preparations for the launch. BRE stands ready to partner with everyone in order to eliminate HIV”.
U=U stands for Undetectable is equal to Untransmittable and simply means that if a person who is HIV-negative has a sexual partner who is living with HIV and has an undetectable viral load, then there is no risk of sexual transmission of HIV to the HIV-negative partner. It means that a person who is on HIV treatment (Antiretroviral [ARV]) with an undetectable HIV viral load cannot transmit HIV to sexual partner even without using condoms or Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Being HIV undetectable is not the same as be HIV negative. If the person on ARVs stops taking HIV-medications (and sometimes for other reasons as well), the viral load will go back up to detectable levels and it is important to note that people who are undetectable will still test positive for HIV on HIV tests.
The Undetectable viral load occurs when copies of HIV cannot be detected by standard viral load tests, an HIV-positive person is said to have an “undetectable viral load.” For most tests used clinically today, this means fewer than 200 copies of HIV per millilitre of blood (<200 copies/mL).
On the other hand, Untransmiittable HIV occurs when a person living with HIV cannot pass on HIV to their partner through unprotected sexual intercourse and this occurs when the partner living with HIV has undetectable viral load.
Studies have shown that when a person first begins ARVs, it usually takes six months for the viral load to become undetectable; and a person’s viral load is considered “durably undetectable” when all viral load test results are undetectable for at least six months after their first undetectable test result. This means that most people will need to be on treatment for 7 to 12 months to have a durably undetectable viral load.
The core of the campaign in Zambia is basically:
- To raise awareness and increase understanding of the importance of being virally suppressed (Undetectable = Untransmittable; U=U), in support of achieving the 3rd 90 in Zambia.
And its objectives include:
- To raise awareness on the importance of knowing their HIV status.
- To reach people living with HIV (PLHIV) with the message that if they are virally suppressed (VL less than 200copies/ml) they will not sexually transmit HIV to their partners (U=U).
- To promote the message that staying on treatment and getting to viral suppression allows PLHIV to protect themselves, their families and their communities.
- To raise awareness among Health Care Providers on the importance of encouraging their clients to start treatment and remain on treatment, to break the chain of transmission.
- To increase PLHIV demand for VL testing at facilities.
A Call to Action: What should a person on ARVs do?
Take Control by taking your ARVs. You have a Zero risk of transmitting HIV to your partner and unborn children. Adhere to treatment.
If you are on ARVs, take your medication as advised by your Health Care Provider