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Worry Over Increase in New Infections Due To ARV Defaulting

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concern over the growing burden of new infections and the number of people defaulting on drugs stalling progress on HIV treatment and prevention.

WHO director of Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programmes, Dr Meg Doherty said HIV prevention efforts have stalled, with 1,5 million new infections having been recorded in 2020 and 2021.

“There were 4 000 new infections every day in 2021, with key populations (sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons, and transgender people) and their sexual partners accounting for 70 percent of HIV infections globally. Long-acting cabotegravir is a safe and highly effective HIV prevention tool, but isn’t yet available outside study settings,” said Doherty.

As of June 2022, the number of people defaulting from ARVs first line were 49 944 and the third line 489, from a total of 1,2 million people living with HIV as compared to 2019 when the second line was 389.

Community Working Group on Health executive director, Itai Rusike, said there has been an increase in the number of people defaulting on ARVs.

“The country is still experiencing an increased number of people who are defaulting on HIV medication.

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“Even though ARVs are mostly provided free of charge at our public health institutions, there are still a number of barriers to treatment, such as transport costs, diagnostic costs and logistical challenges for Zimbabweans outside the country, especially from areas along our borders, but who rely on their ARVs supply from the country.

“The current challenges of drug abuse are also another contributing factor for defaulting on HIV treatment,” he said.

Rusike said there is a need to understand reasons for defaulting in order to design improved treatment retention.

“But, what is encouraging is that Zimbabwe has almost 1,4 million people living with HIV and 1,3 million are on treatment, which is highly commendable even though we would want to have everyone living with HIV to be on treatment,” he said.

In July 2020, an HIV vaccine trial called Imbokodo was stopped in South Africa after it was found to be 25 percent or less effective in stopping HIV infection.

However, HIV vaccine trials continue to take place in Mexico and Brazil in the transgender community settings.

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