Focus on preventing new HIV infections, says UNAIDS

Kathmandu, December 2

In 2016, there were an estimated 32,700 people living with HIV in Nepal. However, only 55 per cent of these are reported, and only 14,500 people were on life-saving antiretroviral therapy by June 2017, says the UNAIDS.

“This treatment coverage, around 45 per cent of people estimated to be living with HIV, is unacceptably low. One remarkable success is that new HIV infections in Nepal have reduced by 40 per cent compared to 2010. There were 2 200 new infections in 2010, and less than 1,000 new HIV infections in 2016. Still, around 1,700 people died of AIDS-related causes in 2016,” stated a press release issued by the UNAIDS yesterday to mark the World AIDS Day, 2017.

Since the inception of Nepal’s antiretroviral treatment programme in 2004, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, National Centre for AIDS and STD Control, Nepal has taken good measures to scale up anti-retroviral treatment, with the objective of reaching everyone who needs treatment. However, investments now need to be, especially, made to prevent new HIV infections.

Preventing new HIV infections means: identifying who are at highest risk of HIV, and reaching and recommending these persons to get tested, receive treatment and remain on treatment. These are now the highest priorities for the HIV response in Nepal, and 73 per cent of the HIV investments, according to ‘HIVision 2020’, will be made towards preventing HIV.

“The right to health is the right of everyone. This is the right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health. This includes the right to prevent HIV – the right of people living with HIV to receive treatment, the right of people affected by HIV to receive care and support. Everyone, regardless of who they are and where they live, of their ethic group or caste, of their religion, or any other characteristics, has the right to make decisions about one’s own health, and to be treated with respect and dignity, without prejudice and discrimination,” said Valerie Julliand, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nepal, in her World AIDS Day message.

“The goal of HIV Testing Services is to identify people living with HIV, as early as possible, and to link them immediately to treatment and care services,” said Dr Ruben del Prado, the UNAIDS Nepal country director.

“The national guidelines for HIV testing and treatment, and the national guidelines on community-led HIV testing, when correctly and fully implemented, will fast-track Nepal to achieving success.”

Dr Pushpa Chaudhary of the Ministry of Health, reminded that Nepal had greatly improved access to testing and treatment services, even in the more remote areas of the country. She further highlighted the importance of going fast-track towards the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic, by 2030. Nepal’s implementation of Community-Led HIV testing will be one important way to achieve that goal, he said.