U.S. backs Zimbabwe on alcohol policy to curb HIV transmission

Harare, August, 2012: The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC-Zimbabwe) is assisting Zimbabwe in developing an alcohol policy to help curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, a senior U.S. Embassy health official said on Tuesday.

CDC Director Peter Kilmarx with community activist Chamunorwa Mashoko

CDC Director Peter Kilmarx with community activist Chamunorwa Mashoko

“Alcohol use is related to both risky sex and poor retention and care for people who are HIV infected,” said Dr. Peter Kilmarx, head of CDC-Zimbabwe during a U.S. Embassy-sponsored Food for Thought (FFT) presentation on Tuesday. “Some of the work we have been involved in is related to developing an alcohol policy for Zimbabwe, (and) some of that will be trying to address the policy interventions designed to reduce the risk of infection to HIV,” said Kilmarx whose organization implements several HIV research and prevention projects funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Kilmarx co-facilitated a discussion session focusing on new and emerging trends in HIV prevention with community activist Chamunorwa Mashoko, a Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention 2012 Advocacy Fellow.

Zimbabwe has witnessed declining HIV prevalence in recent years.  Figures for HIV+ pregnant women declined from 25.7 percent in 2002 to 11.6 percent in 2009, according to Zimbabwe Antenatal Care Surveillance. The speakers, representing both scientific and community views on the subject, attributed this to ‘behavior change and death.’

The discussion looked at known methods of preventing HIV transmission, including condom use, abstinence, and HIV testing. The speakers also covered treatment as prevention, male circumcision, Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and the use of microbicides as a proven prevention tool. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is short-term antiretroviral treatment to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, either occupationally or through sexual intercourse.

Kilmarx, who has authored over 90 scientific research articles on health related issues, highlighted some recent studies that have been conducted on each prevention measure.

Discussing new microbicide prevention methods, Mashoko, who was part of the initial microbicides research team, said such interventions will remain a dream due, in part, to limited resources and competing needs.

“This will remain a pipeline dream for African women,” said Mashoko. “In as much as we cannot implement our own studies, what more (can we do) about committing resources to an HIV negative women?  The initiative (use of microbicides) is commendable (but) on the ground it will take more years for us to implement.”

Microbicides are compounds that can be applied inside the vagina or rectum to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV. They are sold as gels, creams, films, or suppositories and sometimes include spermicidals (contraceptives).

Speaking on treatment, Mashoko called for the phasing out of substandard first line regimens for AIDS treatment. “While it looks like it is cheaper, people on treatment are subjected to a lot of side effects that make them end up in hospital,” said Mashoko who also called for the total elimination of pediatric HIV.

Kilmarx highlighted that new U.S. government funding for HIV/AIDS includes $18.6 million to enable the government of Zimbabwe to provide anti-retroviral medication for an additional 60,000 new patients.  The treatment coverage in Zimbabwe is 500,000, which represent 40 percent of the total population of people living with HIV/AIDS. – ZimPAS© August 24, 2012