The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo has made a strong case for the strict adherence to HIV treatment to reduce transmissions particularly among infants in the country.
Expressing worry over an estimated 3,400 new HIV infections among children under 14 years across the country in 2017, according to a UNAIDS report, the First Lady, asked that support systems were strengthened to ensure infected pregnant women adhered to medications to prevent transmission to babies.
She was speaking at the opening of the 13th International Conference on HIV Treatment, Pathogenesis and Prevention Research in Resource Limited Settings, in Accra, yesterday.
The four-day conference, gathering over 700 participants from 45 countries across the globe to share research into wide range of HIV related topics while adopting best practices among countries in tackling the disease, is being hosted in Accra for the first time.
Mrs Akufo-Addo held that “every child born to an HIV positive mother should be screened for the disease within the first six weeks of life and followed up according to national protocol. Any child who tests positive at any time during the follow up should be initiated on antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible.”
In line with learning from past experiences and practices in other countries, the First Lady charged the Ghana Health Service to have a “reporting system” to identify every single infant infected with HIV to ensure continuum of care.
“We need to understand whether the mother attended antenatal clinic, tested for HIV, was offered and adhered to antiretroviral drugs and practised exclusive breastfeeding so that we fine-tune our programme as we move towards elimination of paediatric HIV,” she maintained.
In a presentation on progress made in HIV prevention and treatment on Sub-Saharan Africa, UNAIDS Country Representative to Uganda, Karusa Kiragu noted that despite advancement made in putting HIV patients on treatment across the sub-region, the issue of identifying infected persons remained a challenge.
In line with achieving the 90-90-90 target for HIV/AIDS control by 2020, Ms Kiragu disclosed that as of end of 2017, 75 per cent of people living with HIV knew their status, 79 per cent were accessing treatment while 81 per cent of those accessing treatment were virally suppressed.
“We are however missing HIV testing among children,” she noted, stressing the need for governments to “demonstrate political courage and put the last mile first because, we will not succeed if we do not find means of reaching the marginalised.”
“As we make progress, more emphasis will need to be placed on optimising retention and adherence, innovative financing, data driven implementation and leverage on regional economic communities,” she advised.
The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu could not agree more on the need to accelerate efforts in tackling the HIV burden to beef up gains made “as we go in for more complex interventions.”
“Let us go back to the basic rules of abstinence, condom use and staying faithful to a partner as the guiding principles to combating the disease,” he urged.
By Lawrence Markwei and Abigail Annoh