Self-healing hampering HIV fight, says expert

FAITH healing and use of unconventional medicines has contributed to the slow progress in the fight against HIV in Zambia, Lusaka Province medical officer Kennedy Malama has disclosed.

Dr Malama said this during the launch of the HIV Self-Testing AfRica (STAR) project yesterday in Lusaka that faith healing was among the hardest hurdles to overcome in the treatment of HIV, including the objectives of the newly introduced self-test kits.

He said while the self-test kit was a screening test, it had the potential to increase numbers of people on self-medication before they could undergo confirmation tests.

“Threats of faith healing, people stopping medication and high use of herbs have affected HIV treatment in the country. However, the introduction of self-test kits would help increase the number of people knowing their status.

“Nonetheless, if found positive, these self-tests raise the risk of people putting themselves on self- medication; but this is just a screening test as there are more confirmation tests to be done and procedures that need to be followed before commencement of medication,’’ Dr Malama said.

And Society for Family Health STAR project director Mutinta Nalubamba said they were aware of the risk of self-medication with the introduction of self-test kits, but that they have put in place monitoring mechanisms to encourage post-test care if results were positive.

Dr Nalubamba said although research carried out in other countries had proved that most people were willing to get treatment after the test, there was still the risk of self-medication.

She said service providers have been well trained in encouraging pots-care service, and that follow-up programmes had been put in place for those who took part in the STAR project.

“We are working adequately with our providers to ensure the test and care is interlinked. There are test forms that need to be taken to the health centres after the tests, and that also follow-ups should be made for those who do not show up to check on them,” she said.

And Minister of Health Joseph Kasonde, in his speech read on his behalf by the director, research and disease surveillance Elizabeth Chizema, said the kit was a Government’s initiative aimed at ending the pandemic in Zambia.

Dr Kasonde said the launch of the kit in Zambia was in tandem with the global 90-90-90 target aimed at ensuring increased testing (90 percent), access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) (90 percent) and positive response to treatment (90 percent).

Dr Kasonde said Zambia remained among the highest HIV prevalence rated countries with 13.3 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 40 years living with the virus.