Ms. Roberta Araba Amoquandoh, HIV Coordinator at Ashaiman Municipalsays coordinated efforts are needed to stop stigma and discrimination (S&D) within the health sector.
She said, "Stigma and discrimination act as impediments to the uptake of HIV testing, treatmentand care and to adherence to treatment, hence the urgent need to fight against them."
She noted that training health officials on the harmful impact of stigma and discrimination, support from the health sector management team, and engagement with key stakeholders in the community would serve as effective tools to stop stigma and discrimination in the health sector.
Ms. Amoquandoh stated during a panel discussion, "Why do we need renewed focus on stigma and discrimination in the health sector?" at the ongoing 22nd edition of the International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The ICASA 2023, which started on December 4 and is expected to end on Saturday, December 9, is on the theme: "AIDS is not over: Address inequalities, accelerate inclusion, and innovate."
It is being organised by the Society for AIDS in Africa in collaboration with the government of Zimbabwe and other partners, including the World Health Organisation, the Global Fund, and others.
Ms. Amoquandoh, who shared the experience of the Ashamian Municipal Hospital, noted that stigma and discrimination increased vulnerability to HIV infection and affected both quality of life and treatment outcomes.
Sharing the success story of Ashaiman, who has attained HIV stigma- and discrimination- free status, she noted that the entire management of the facility adopted an action plan to reduce stigma and discrimination.
She noted that the support of management of the health facility formed a critical component in the transformation, which also included engaging proactive resource persons to build the capacity of health officials on how to prevent and manage issues of stigma and discrimination.
Ms. Amoquandoh stressed that reducing stigma and discrimination will also increase patronage of health facilities, create enabling working relations with people living with HIV, and restore the confidence of both health officials and people affected.
She said Ashaiman Municipal Hospital also consciously developed proactive intervention plans to reduce stigma and discrimination, formed a champions team, and provided access and modalities to report any incident of stigma and discrimination.
She said that, because of the new paradigm at the hospital, patronage has increased. Staff knowledge improved, engagement with key populations improved, and a platform was created for the exchange of ideas, among key staff and others.
Meanwhile, Dr. Douglas Mombeshora, Zimbabwean Minister of Health, and Childcare, has revealed that HIV incidence in the country is currently at 0.17 per cent, while the prevalence is at eleven per cent.
He said that out of the 1.3 million people living with HIV, over 1.2 million are on treatment.
Dr. Mombeshora explained that despite setbacks related to COVID-19, the response has recovered and is expanding in line with the goals of Zimbabwe National Development Strategy 1 and ending AIDS by 2030.
He said evidence from major surveys has already indicated that as of 2021, Zimbabwe had achieved the 95-95-95 fast track targets, with the percentage of people who know their HIV status at 96 percent, of whom 96 percent are on ART and 93 percent have a suppressed viral load.
He said Zimbabwe was now focused on sustaining the gains and ensuring that it scaled up services to vulnerable communities, including adolescent girls and young women, sex workers, other key populations, and those above 50 who are ageing with HIV.
He said Zimbabwe recognises the importance of collaborative efforts in combating HIV, AIDS, and TB, as well as emerging pandemics.
He said that through the opportunity to host the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, "we are committed to creating an enabling environment for all delegates to engage in constructive dialogue.
"We are eager to share our experiences and also learn from others as we coast towards epidemic control and the goal of ending AIDS by 2030. We will tap.
from our recent experience in hosting the ICASA in 2015 and lessons from elsewhere to deliver a rich scientific, business, and tourism programme."