Informal traders in Marondera yesterday said the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were hindering access to life-saving HIV medication, particularly for those in rural areas, among other challenges.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA/NQOBANI NDLOVU
The vendors’ plea came as health experts warned of a possible spike in new HIV infections in Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan countries resulting from disruptions in HIV services owing to COVID-19 lockdowns.
The experts argued that any disruption to HIV programmes such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) prophylaxis services could see new child HIV infections rising by over 100% in Zimbabwe, 83% in Mozambique, 139% in Uganda and 162% in Malawi.
Speaking at a Zimbabwe National Editors Forum-organised dialogue between journalists and informal traders’ representatives in Marondera yesterday, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Mashonaland East provincial chairperson Petros Makayikayi said vendors were failing to access ARVs due to lockdown restrictions.
“People in SMEs living with HIV are not spared from the lockdown as they fail to travel to the nearest health centres to receive treatment due to the lockdown restrictions on movement. The unavailability of public transport in remote areas has forced some to default on their treatment.
The shutdown directive violates the right to privacy and dehumanises SME workers living with HIV as they are compelled to reveal their medical conditions to police officers manning roadblocks to be allowed passage to health centres,” Makayikayi said.
Zimbabwe is currently on an indefinite lockdown which restricts movement of ordinary people. The movement restrictions have hit hard on informal traders mainly vendors who rely on selling goods at open markets and on streets.
About 90% of the country’s workforce is in the informal sector.
Meanwhile, a research titled: Estimation of the Potential Impact of COVID-19 Responses on the HIV Epidemic: Analysis using the Goals Model released on May 1 found that disruptions to primary prevention programmes due to COVID-19 lockdowns could be severe, doubling or tripling the estimated number of HIV deaths in 2020.
“We found that disruptions to primary prevention programmes (male circumcision, behaviour change programmes, condom distribution) would have small, but transitory effects on new infections that might be more than offset by reductions in commercial and multi-partner sex due to lockdowns,” the report read.
“However, if COVID-19 leads to disruptions in ART (anti-retroviral therapy) services the impact on mortality could be severe, doubling or tripling the estimated number of HIV deaths in 2020.”
The research, conducted by the National Aids Council (NAC) and National Aids Commission in Malawi, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
HIV/Aids activists in the country urged authorities to also consider the plight of those on ART so as not to reverse the gains made in the fight against the pandemic during the lockdown period.
A Zimbabwe Population Based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHA) October 2015 and August 2016 household survey — the first such survey in the country to measure national HIV incidence and Viral Load Suppression (VLS) — shows that great strides have been made by the country in line with the UN 90-90-90 target.
The UNAids 90-90-90 target calls on countries to ensure by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
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