#SAAIDS2019: MSF achieves 90-90-90 targets in Eshowe

Systemic racism leaves people of colour exposed to global health threats

Eshowe uThungulu District Municipality has reached the United Nations HIV programme’s 90-90-90 targets a year ahead of the deadline, new research from international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has found.

The study showed that 90% of participants in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Eshowe living with HIV know their status, 94% are taking antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and 95% of those on treatment have a suppressed viral load — meaning, the  HIV in their blood is so low it’s undetectable which proves that ARVs are working.

Virally suppressed

UNAIDS goals are that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their status; 90% of those diagnosed with HIV will be on treatment and 90% of those will also be virally suppressed.

The results were released at the ninth annual South African AIDS Conference hosted in Durban.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) nurse Gloria Galela attends to a woman working on a farm near Eshowe in rural KwaZulu-Natal. MSF is working to bring HIV testing and treatment to this key population group in the province, where HIV prevalence is among the highest in South Africa. Photo: MSF

As a follow-up to MSF’s 2013 survey, the study conducted interviews and tested about 3,200 people between the ages of 15 to 59 in the area. The viral loads of all participants who tested HIV-positive were measured, regardless of whether or not they were on treatment. The results showed an overall increase in people’s awareness of their HIV status and those on treatment.

One of the biggest highlights from the study was the results of men in the uptake of HIV testing and treatment.

Men make a mark

Male participants who started treatment doubled since 2013, and additionally, there was a staggering increase — by almost a third — in male participants who tested for HIV.

There was also an overall increase of 14% of people who knew their HIV status, which also grew the number of people starting ARV treatment in the area by a quarter.

MSF worked with the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department and used, among other methods, door-to-door testing by community health workers and adherence clubs to make sure people stayed on treatment.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to reach 90-90-90 in an area with one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country, where one in four people is living with HIV. These results are a testament to the full engagement of the entire community,” said Dr. Liesbet Ohler, MSF’s project medical referent in Eshowe.

But, there’s still a long way to go to.

The latest HIV household study shows that 85% of South Africans know their HIV status, only 71% of those infected with the virus are on ARVs and 86% have an undetectable viral load.

Notably, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence across the country.

While girls and young women remain at risk, MSF said HIV-positive young men continue to be left behind.– Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.


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