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U=U campaign packaging a headache for BHP, Ministry

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TRICKY AFFAIR: Dr Joseph Makhema is still cautious on the matter of declaring the Undetectable to be Untransmittable

While there is no denying the proven science that an HIV positive person whose HIV viral load cannot be detected cannot transmit it to an HIV negative person, it is how that message is packaged and delivered to the public that is proving to be a difficulty.

This is according to the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) Dr Joseph Makhema.Internationally, the Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign, has gained ground as scientific consensus has united around the concept that being undetectable means being unable to transmit HIV. The campaign has been endorsed by more than 350 HIV organisations from 34 countries, including leading scientific and medical organisations such as the International AIDS Society (IAS), UNAIDS, and the British HIV Association (BHIVA).

By taking HIV treatment consistently and on time, the HIV virus in the blood (also known as viral load) and other bodily fluids gets to undetectable levels. The drugs work by controlling the replication of HIV in the body by reducing the virus’ ability to make copies of itself.

“The drugs slow down the damage that the virus does to the immune system and allow people to live long, productive lives like everyone else without succumbing to the disease. These drugs are tremendously valuable in giving an excellent quality of life and preventing HIV transmission. There is absolutely no doubt that HIV treatment has revolutionised AIDS,” Dr Makhema explained.

However, he said for now BHP and the Health Ministry are still looking at the context and messaging of U=U and how to package it for the public. This, he explained is because, there are situations whether of illness, for example if someone has flu, they can get an exacerbation of viral rebound.

Or somebody gets a gastro intestinal disorder and they have diarrhoea or vomiting, they cannot keep the medication in their system. This would mean they are not fully able to keep the virus fully supressed and they can rebound.

“So we really don’t know at this point in time, we really need to have research done so that we are able to know how we are going to package and share the U=U messaging with the general public,” stated Dr Makhema.

According to Dr Makhema, the only time he would ever give anyone the go ahead to have unprotected sex is only if there was a test where before each sexual act, a person can check their viral load.
Until then he insists on condom use even with the other HIV prevention tools currently available like Safe Male Circumcision and more recently, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

“While we have got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic, it’s important how we package that information so that our people really understand how they work,” Dr Makhema said.

Citing the condom as an example, Dr Makhema said that new infections are still high even though condoms are cheap, readily available and have been proven to be over 99 percent effective if used correctly at not only preventing HIV infection but also other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Overall, Dr Makhema said there was need for clear guidance on how individuals should be advised on using “treatment as prevention” as a safer sex option and this should be combined with renewed efforts to encourage condom use.

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Women challenged to step-up food production

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National Development Bank CEO, Lorato Morapedi has challenged women to take up more agribusiness ventures to cut down on the country’s food import bill.
With an annual P7 billion food import bill hanging over the country, Morapedi said women can significantly trim it down. “We need to get out of our comfort zones, let’s open our eyes and seize the opportunities,” said Morapedi, adding that women need to work in groups.
She emphasized that women should leverage on collective expertise found in clusters to grow the country’s food production sector.
“Grab the opportunities that exist with the food value chain,” she said, citing that women have been hard-hit by COVID-19 in their endeavors to put food on the table.
She further implored women not to shy away from finance development institutions (FDIs) to finance their projects. Morapedi bemoaned that a handful people are willing to go into food production despite the high import food bill that the country faces.
Very few people are doing food production; people are lazy to go into food production,” said Morapedi. She also highlighted that the country’s major supplier, South Africa is also not coping as COVID-19 challenges unravel.
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Sun ePaper Wednesday 05 August 2020

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