HIV/AIDS continue to hamper development in Zambia-Kambwili

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Government has observed that HIV/AIDS has continued to hamper sustainable development in Zambia because of its effects on the most productive group of people.

Minister of Youth and Sport Chishimba Kambwili said the disease affects the most important factor of production, which is human resource.

Mr. Kambwili said the youth, who are the most productive segment of any given population, have been badly affected by the pandemic in Zambia.

He said this at a press briefing to announce the launch of the Zambia U-report in Lusaka.

The U-report is a joint innovation devised by the Zambian government, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the National Aids Council (NAC) and the Zambia Information Technology and Communication Authority (ZICTA) and other partners.

ZANIS reports that the U-report is a free Short Message Service (SMS) based system that will allow young Zambians to seek information, access counselling services, receive HIV/AIDS preventive messages and access the whole host of services about HIV/AIDS in the country.

Mr. Kambwili said human resource, especially the youth, was at greatest risk in the present scenario of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The minister noted that in order for countries to continue recording sustainable economic development, there was need for stakeholders to come up with interventions that will contribute to halting new HIV/AIDS infections especially among the youth.

Mr. Kambwili said it was for this reason that United Nations (UN) systems in Zambia, working with government have developed the U-report initiative to provide the youth with information of life skills so that they were able to make right decisions with regard to their sexuality and help avoid new HIV/AIDS infections.

He added that U-report was new communications technology that was revolutionizing social mobilization and monitoring the HIV/AIDS response efforts.

Mr. Kambwili further said the report was an initiative equipping mobile phone users with tools to establish and enforce new comprehensive preventive messages and services on HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health matters.

He said the U-report was using the short code 878 on all mobile phone networks in Zambia and has since called upon all the Zambian youths to subscribe to 878 and enrol on the U-report.

Mr. Kambwili stressed that this will enable young people to access useful information and services on HIV/AIDS and assist them make right decisions so that they can also contribute to an HIV free Zambia.

He stated that trained counsellors were available to respond to their questions, concerns and provide referral and counselling in real time.

He said an HIV free Zambia was possible especially if young people were fully involved in the fight against the pandemic.

Mr. Kambwili thanked the UN system in Zambia, NAC and ZICTA for partnering with government on the U-report initiative.

He reaffirmed government’s commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS adding that government shall therefore continue working with partners in the development and implementation of programmes that address HIV/AIDS issues among the youth.

Meanwhile, UNICEF Country Representative Iyorlumun Uhaa said statistics show that youth HIV risk greatly increases when young people have limited HIV knowledge and when they were ill equipped with life skills to delay sexual debut and resist peer pressure among others.

Dr. Uhaa further said there were 27, 000 new HIV infections every year among young people aged 15 to 24 years.

“This translates to 72 new infections per day and three HIV infections per hour. Of the 69, 000 new HIV infections occurring in Zambia in 2011 among people aged 15 years and above, about 27, 000 were young people aged 15 to 24 years, 60 percent of them girls,” Dr. Uhaa noted.

The Dr. Uhaa pointed out that this calls for a critical need to pay attention to the young people to reduce new HIV infections in the country.

And NAC Chairperson Joshua Banda said the threat of HIV/AIDS requires being ever watchful and proactive using the abundant knowledge of the pandemic.

Dr. Banda noted that SMS based HIV information provision platform, the Zambia U-Report, is one such practical example of using evidence as a tool against escalation of HIV among the population of the youth who are technologically oriented.

The Zambia U-Report was first launched in Kitwe during the commemoration of the 2012 World AIDS day and so far a total of 1,200 youths have registered.