Utilize VCT services – Katema
Mazabuka, July 10, ZANIS……Minister of Community Development Mother and Child Health Joseph Katema has urged people to use Voluntary Counseling and Testing Services as a primary prevention tool to effectively reduce their risk behaviors for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Dr. Katema said VCT programmes have both individual and public health benefits in that those that test negative have their minds put at rest and can be encouraged to reduce their risk while those that test positive can be referred for appropriate follow- up services and have their health monitored.
He said benefits of individual prevention strategies to reduce onward transmission of infection are cost effective since late identification of infection is often associated with increased treatment costs and hospitalization.
Dr. Katema was speaking in Mazabuka at Shimungalu fishing camp on Tuesday during the commemoration of National VCT day whose theme was “Reaching Everyone, Everywhere with Annual HIV Counseling and Testing Services”.
He noted that the benefits of VCT are not without challenges because issues of stigma and discrimination require concerted efforts to be overcome.
“Stigma and the fear of testing positive are potential barriers to testing. For couples this extends to fear of victimization or gender based violence. If HIV testing is accepted the same way we accept Rapid malaria tests, rapid syphilis tests, rapid glucose tests and many others, the provision of VCT programmes targeted at couples and or families can be very effective tool in HIV prevention, “ Katema stated.
He said VCT for couples and families can provide a way to improve the testing opportunities for men adding that VCT programmes form the cornerstone of HIV prevention strategies thereby increasing awareness of HIV issues and potentially reduce both primary and secondary HIV transmission.
And speaking earlier National AIDS Council Chairperson Joshua Banda said Mazabuka was deliberately chosen as a venue for the national level commemoration of VCT because of an increasing number of migrant workers pouring into the district due to expanding economic activities in sugar plantations, fishing and mining.
Dr. Banda said Zambia still remains one of the countries with the heaviest burden of a mature and generalized HIV and AIDS epidemic with a national prevalence of 14.3 percent with youths being the most vulnerable.
“To date only 15% of Zambians have been counseled and tested making it vital for all actors to get involved in the response to scale up the uptake of VCT services,” observed Dr. Banda
He appealed to partners to help accelerate HIV counseling and testing services by introduce innovative, robust and effective approaches to increase the number of sexually active people who go to seek the services.
And Mazabuka District Administrative officer Wilson Siadunka said 85% of people on the islands of Shimungalu and the selected clinic catchment areas in Mazabuka were offered the VCT services during the countdown to the national day saying the demand for the services was overwhelming.