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Food critical to HIV and Aids treatment

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ORGANISATIONS fighting for people’s rights to health last week welcomed the new Anti-Retroviral drug guidelines unveiled by government, but warned food security was important to effectively deal with HIV and Aids.

SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER

Executive director of the Community Working Group on Health Itai Rusike said government should now deal with food security issues as well as distribution systems of drugs to ensure that all intended beneficiaries on Anti-Retroviral Treatment and other drugs benefit.

On Wednesday, deputy Health and Child Welfare minister Dr Paul Chimedza said HIV and Aids patients will start accessing drugs from a CD4 count of 500 instead of the previous 350, adding children less than five years will be placed on treatment as soon as they were diagnosed.

“It is a welcome development as treatment will reach out to a whole lot more people, but government needs to attend to food security issues and distribution systems of drugs because the Ministry of Health faces challenges in transportation of medicines and making sure they reach the hard hit areas and remote areas,” said Rusike.

“Health workers who are going to administer the treatment should be motivated and infrastructural challenges at most health institutions must be addressed to deal with issues of storage and security of drugs as they can be stolen or expire.”

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 2,2 million Zimbabweans — a quarter of the country’s rural population — might require food aid early next year due to poor harvests realised in the last cropping season.

Rusike said this was an opportunity for the country to also mobilise its own resources instead of entirely depending on donors so as to prevent situations whereby if donor funds were exhausted people on treatment ended up discontinuing taking drugs which would adversely affect their health.

The Aids and Arts Foundation executive director Emmanuel Gasa said apart from food assistance, people on ARV treatment required psycho-social support.

“Challenges of equipment should also be dealt with. For instance, the issue of viral load machines is a challenge as there are very few of these at institutions, especially in rural areas. Payment of user fees should also be flashed out because we still have areas where people on TB treatment are made to pay $8 for two weeks’ treatment. There is also need to unfreeze nursing posts and to lure the private sector to assist in our health delivery system,” said Gasa.

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