LESOTHO BECOMES THE FIRST AFRICAN COUNTRY TO LAUNCH TEST AND TREAT STRATEGY FOR HIV AND HIV TESTING SERVICES (HTS) GUIDELINES
Lesotho still has the second highest HIV prevalence globally, with high HIV/ TB co-infection rate of 74%; experiencing increasing AIDS related deaths and new HIV infections. There is low treatment coverage with only 40% of eligible adults accessing anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and 33% of eligible children accessing treatment.
At the moment, our guidelines stipulate that people can only access treatment when their CD4 count is 500 and below or they are very sick (as per WHO clinical staging); and for selected populations such as pregnant women, children and others. With the dissemination of the WHO Early Release Guidelines in September 2015, the world now agrees that “antiretroviral therapy (ART) should be initiated in everyone living with HIV at any CD4 cell count”, a policy known as “Test and Treat”. This recommendation was made on the strength of research studies done all over the world. These studies demonstrated that earlier use of ART has proven to be more beneficial and life-saving than delayed treatment.
In addition, the country has also embarked on concurrently revising the HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) guidelines. The revised guidelines are meant to strengthen HIV Testing Services (HTS) and identify people with HIV through the provision of quality services for individuals, couples and families; effectively link individuals and their families to appropriate HIV treatment, care and support, as well as HIV prevention services, based upon their status; and support the scale-up of high impact interventions to reduce HIV transmission and HIV-related morbidity and mortality, that is, antiretroviral therapy (ART), voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Lesotho has an opportunity to address the most serious health crisis facing the nation by improving the health outcomes of people living with HIV and by preventing future HIV infections by introducing Test and Treat as soon as possible and ensuring rapid enrolment in treatment. The Test and Treat approach should be seen not as a radical change or paradigm shift, but as a newly-available, evidence-based tool to increase treatment coverage and improve life expectancy and health outcomes for all people living with HIV.
The Government of Lesotho has decided that Lesotho will be the pioneer in Africa! We shall be the first African country moving forward with the rest of the world in adopting Test & Treat for the benefit of all Basotho. The Ministry of Health is now preparing for the roll-out of this great initiative. As of 1 June 2016, every person who tests HIV positive will be offered ART regardless of their CD4 count. In addition, all those who were tested before and were told they were not yet ready for treatment because of their CD4 count should go back to their health facilities to be initiated on treatment.
Remember: this is a life-time commitment and will be effective only if people take their drugs as prescribed, continue living responsibly and use other preventive measures.
GET TESTED, GET TREATED NOW AND LIVE LONGER!