UN Press Release: Prevention the way out of the HIV Epidemic
Thursday, 30 June 2011 - Lusaka, 30 June 2011, today marks the 5th Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) day in Zambia. In 2007, Zambia met its MDG targets for HIV prevalence, which was set at 15.6% or less. Despite this, new HIV infections remain un-acceptably high; with a prevalence rate of 14.3%, Zambia remains one of the countries most affected by HIV and AIDS. Current prevalence rates mean that over 1.8 million Zambians are living with HIV. This leaves no room for complacency, with much work remaining particularly in addressing the root causes of HIV which sustain high levels of vulnerability in sectors of the population.
Prevalence is no longer the most significant or sensitive indicator to monitor the epidemic. The focus has shifted from prevalence (total number of infections) to incidence (number of new infections). The UNAIDS Global Report (2010) announced that Zambia is among 56 countries globally which have reduced the rate of new infections. HIV incidence in adults aged 15-49 was estimated to be 1.6% in 2009.
In order to bring the epidemic under control, this rate is still too high. With over 900,000 people living with HIV and AIDS, of which nearly 80,000 are newly infected (NAC), Zambians individually and as a country continue to shoulder the heavy weight of the HIV and AIDS burden.
In order to reduce the incidence rate, it is critical to focus on prevention - to that end, knowing ones HIV status and taking appropriate action is crucial. It is equally crucial that one also knows the HIV status of their sexual partner. Yet the overall number of Zambians taking advantage of VCT remains worryingly low. With only 16% of Zambian adults aged 15-49 knowing their HIV status, up to 20% of Zambian couples are unknowingly living with an HIV positive partner. This represents a significant risk for further infection.
Youth are particularly at risk. According to the 2011 MDG Progress Report, only 48% of youth (aged 15-24) have comprehensive and accurate knowledge of HIV and AIDS. This is of concern since most gains in the battle against HIV and AIDS have been in older age groups; it remains critical that Zambia's youth, who represent 68% of the population, be engaged, educated, and encouraged to regularly participate in VCT.
Addressing the HIV epidemic is absolutely necessary in order to realize Zambia's Millennium Development Goals. Prevention is a cornerstone of the response, and this will only happen if people take it upon themselves to know their status. It is especially critical to empower and engage women, who share a disproportionate amount of the disease burden. In 2009, the prevalence rate of women was 16.1%, compared to 12.3% in men; what's more, women of reproductive age are most at risk.
Working with the Government of the Republic of Zambia, as well as other Cooperating Partners, the UN system in Zambia is committed to reducing the incidence of HIV in Zambia and to ensure that those people who require treatment access it in a timely manner. The UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), developed alongside Zambia's Sixth National Development Plan, provides a holistic, coordinated strategy for all UN agencies in Zambia, closely aligned to the development priorities of Zambia. The UNDAF identifies five targeted outcomes, including reducing new HIV infections by 50% by 2015. In line with the objectives set out in the UNDAF, over a period of five years the UN will mobilize over US $45 million to support Government and other partners to develop and implement policies, strategies and programmes to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.