Addis Ababa-The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (FHAPCO) said that adult HIV prevalence level has fallen from 2.1% in 2011 to 1.3% in 2013 owing to the sound strategic plans designed and implemented over the years, strong leadership commitment and program ownership.
Speaking at a press conference held on 24 August 2013 and attended by 34 journalists representing 16 print and electronic media houses, Ato Meskele Lera, Deputy Director General of FHAPCO pointed out that in 2013 an estimated 734,048 people were living with HIV/AIDS, out of which 448,865 (61%) were females.
Speaking at the press conference were representatives of the Ministry of Health, Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI), Pharmaceutical Funds Supply Agency (PFSA), Food, Medicines and Health Care Administration and Control Authortiy (FMHACA), Addis Ababa HAPCO, Zewditu Memorial Hospital, and the National Network of Networks of HIV Positives in Ethiopia (NEP+.)
The press conference was organized by FHAPCO to brief journalists on the current HIV epidemic situation in the country, procurement process of HIV commodities ( antiretroviral drugs, condoms, HIV test kits), as well as procedures of quality assurance and policy issues on HIV prevention, treatment care and support and other related health matters.
Ato Meskele further said that out of the total people living with HIV in the country, 154,038 were children under the age of 14 years and that there are an estimated 34,542 HIV positive pregnant women in need of service for the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. There are an estimated 4.2 million orphans in the country, out of which 792,840 children were orphaned due to AIDS.
The Deputy Director General of FHAPO said that Ethiopia has generalized and heterogeneous HIV epidemic and the national adult prevalence rate varies significantly among population groups, and geographic areas. In this regard, he said that in order to design evidence based intervention programs which suit each geographic area and population groups, studies are being undertaken to identify the mode of HIV transmission (MOT) in the regional states of the country.
Quoting UNAIDS report of 2012, Ato Meskele noted that the rate of new HIV infections in Ethiopia has dropped from 0.29% (130,000 people) in 2001 to 0.03% (23,000 people) in 2011. Number of people tested for HIV per year increased from less than half a million in 2004/05 to 11.2 million in 2011/12 he said, adding people currently on ART increased from 3,880 in 2005 to 296000 (73% of estimated eligible) in March 2013.
The Deputy Director General attributed the success to the collective efforts exerted by the Government, non-governmental local and international organizations, the private sector, the media and the community at large. Speaking of media based behavioral change communications, he said that 1.2 million people and 60,000 youth were reached through Betegna and Dagu Youth Program, respectively. He added: 1.1 million people were given Hotline free counseling in 2011/12.
Gender inequality, poverty, and harmful socio-cultural norms such as widow inheritance, pre-marital and extra-marital sex were cited as major vulnerability factors that drive the epidemic. Major risk factors to HIV infection also include: multiple sexual partnership, early initiation of sex, low condom use and intergenerational and transactional sex. Mobility of people, especially of young people to large scale development schemes such as mechanized farms, construction of dams and transportation routes and factories were becoming hotspots with the potential of creating massive epidemic and causing further spread to the general population, according to Ato Meskele.
Dr. Yibeltal Assefa, Deputy Director General of EHNRI told journalist that the main task of his organization was to undertake various studies to determine the trend of HIV/AIDS in the country and to establish whether the HIV/AIDS multi-sectoral responses are yielding results. He said EHNRI conducts antenatal care surveillance survey every two years to know the prevalence of the virus among pregnant women. Likewise, Demographic Health Survey is carried every five years and recently EHNRI has started studies to determine the spread of the virus among the most at risk population and identify risk factors that expose them to HIV.
He pointed out that the services for the provision of anti-retroviral drugs have been launched in 2005 and in collaboration with the Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, EHNRI is currently undertaking a study to assess the success of the services and identify challenges. He said the number of anti-retroviral drug users is increasing with each passing day and like any other medicines, if it is not taken properly y and in keeping with doctors’ instructions, it can develop resistance. In this regard, he noted, EHNRI is conducting a study to assess and design mechanism to ensure efficient and quality service delivery system.
Dr. Firehiwet Nigatu, Coordinator of the HIV program of the Ministry of Health said that the MoH is designing new interventions one of which is an accelerated plan intended to fully prevent mother to child transmission of HIV by 2015. All HIV positive pregnant women are now eligible to take anti-retro-viral drugs irrespective of their CD4 blood count. All HIV positive people whose CD4 blood count is 350 and below are also entitled to anti-retroviral drugs, she added.
Dr. Firehiwet, said that the MoH is striving to create awareness among the most at risk population to encourage them to come to health centers for voluntary HIV counseling and testing. In this connection, she said that there are about 3000 health institutions at national level that provide HIV/AIDS counseling and testing services and 2044 health centers across the nation which give services for the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. There are 897 sites that provide anti-HIV/AIDS treatment services, she noted adding, during the just ended 2005 EFY budget year close to 11 (eleven) million people have received HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment services. The official of the MoH further noted that close to 300,000 patients have so far received drugs for HIV/AIDS and other related diseases.She informed journalists that the MoH is introducing new equipment and training professionals to identify and provide new medicines to those who have been on ART for a long time and who might have developed resistance.
Ato Tadesse Atilabachew, Head of the Addis Ababa HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, pointed out that prevalence rate in Addis Ababa has decreased from 9.2% to 5.2 in 2011. He said 53,553 PLHIVs are currently on ART and that the number of VCT sites has increased from 47 in 2001 E.C. to 83 now. The Head of the AAHAPCO further pointed out that efforts were being made to prevent transmission of HIV to and fro the most at risk population and to encourage employers of governmental and non-governmental institution, major industries and factories in the city to include HIV programs in their core activities.
Ato Tadesse said that Addis Ababa, as the capital city of the country and headquarter of the ECA and many other UN specialized agencies and international organizations, entertains massive movements of people with the potential of causing the spread of the virus.
Ato Mengisteab Woldearegay, Deputy Director General of FMHACA, told journalists that his organization was legally mandated, among other things, to ensure safety, efficacy, quality and proper use of medicines including HIV/AIDS drugs and health commodities.
The Deputy Director General of FMHACA said that there are 850 woreda health regularity units in the 9 regional states and two city administrations of the country. He further pointed out that the regulatory activities are undertaken by the Authority and regional counter parts to ensure safety, efficacy, quality and proper use of HIV/AIDS medicines including anti-retroviral drugs, medicines for opportunistic infections, condoms, diagnostic kits and other health commodities.
Ato Yared Yigezu, Director of Forecasting and Capacity Building Directorate of PFSA said that medicines which are to be procured have to be from among the list of essential medicines identified by Ethiopia, they have to be prequalified by WHO and they have to meet the criteria set by the Global Fund Quality Assurance policy for pharmaceuticals and health products. Moreover, only those suppliers registered by local regulatory Authority are allowed to participate in the tender issued to procure anti-retroviral drugs.
Ato Yared further said that PFSA follows international competitive bidding process in procuring ARVs and related supplies. As part of quality control measure, pharmaceuticals are inspected upon arrival at port and the agency’s warehouses.
Dr. Aster Shoamare, Head of the Disease Prevention and Control Sub-Process Owner at the Zewditu Memorial Hospital, said that once on ART, patients are expected to strictly adhere to instructions given by health practitioners. These days patients do not die from HIV/AIDS provided that they take their medicines properly, she said adding, anti-retroviral drugs have enabled people living with HIV/AIDS to lead a normal life, to become productive citizens and bear and rear children like any other people if they take their medicines properly.
Dr. Aster pointed out that like any other medicines, anti-retroviral drugs can have short term and long term side effects especially if patients are negligent and fail to heed to doctors’ advices. This can lead to developing resistance and in this regard the support of families, friends and the community was highly required she said.
Ato Dereje Alemayehu, Executive Director of (NEP+) said that his organization has 900 permanent employees across the country and 4800 voluntary workers providing house to house care and support services particularly to those who are bed-ridden. Within the last two and three years we were able to reach 39000 patients he said, adding, NEP+ has provided initial capital to 14000 PLHIVs to help them engage in income generation activities.
Ato Dereje stated that NEP+ strives to ensure that PLHIVs are provided with essential information and care and support services. He pointed out that NEP+ works closely with Government and non-governmental organizations to guarantee better policies, treatment and medicines for PLHIV.
Responding to a question raised by a journalist regarding the definition of MARPs, the Deputy Director General of FHAPCO, Ato Meskele, pointed out that a standard study is being carried out by EHNRI, in collaboration with partners, to identify the most at risk segments of the population and the factors that expose them to HIV. He said that the study is being carried out by taking into account the cultural and religious values and within the legal framework of the country.
Answering a question dealing with international financial support, Ato Meskele pointed out that because of the international financial crises, support from donors is decreasing but it doesn’t mean the aid for the HIV/AID mult-sectoral response will stop altogether. The support is continuing and it will continue he said, adding, the national HIV/AIDS multi-sectoral response is not carried out only with foreign support. The Government, non-governmental organization, the private sector and the community at large are contributing significantly to the fight against HIV//AIDS.
We shall strive to pool local resources and enhance the support of the international community in order to keep the momentum of the fight against HIV/AIDS and avoid any relapse of the disease.