Reaching HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control Goal by 2030: Youths’ Role to Mitigate the Epidemic

HIV Epidemic

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 05: AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and AIDS patients march to protest millions of dollars in cuts to life-saving AIDS services. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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Ever since the first three cases of HIV/AIDS Epidemic were reported in Tanzania in 1983 in the Kagera region, the country, in partnership with international and local partners, has set up guidelines and policies and has been implementing a combination of HIV/AIDS prevention interventions to mitigate the impact and spread of this epidemic across the country.

Adult HIV prevalence is estimated at 4.5 percent (UNAIDS). As of 2021, data from UNAIDS shows over 1.7 million Tanzanians are living with the disease. There were 27000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the country. Heterosexual sex is the primary contributing route source of HIV transmission in Tanzania, attributing up to 80 percent.

Tanzania and the key vulnerable population at high risk of acquiring new HIV infections are people who inject drugs, with a 16 – 51 percent prevalence rate. Men who have sex with men with a prevalence rate of 22 – 42 percent, and mobile populations including miners and fishermen and women and sex workers with a prevalence rate of 14 – 35 percent.

In Tanzania, women are proportionately more affected, with HIV prevalence of 6.3 percent versus 3.9 percent among men (TMHIS 2011 -12). Of all new HIV infections, youths, especially adolescent girls and women, account for up to 80 percent of new infections.

Tanzania’s United Front Against HIV/AIDS: A Journey of Success

Tanzania and its international and local partners, including USAID, Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric Aids Initiative, University Research Corporation, Delloite Consulting Limited, Benjamin Mkapa Foundation, Tacaids, Association of Private Health Facilities, PACT, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, Tanzania Health Promotion Support, Engender, Touch Foundation, Jhpiego, MDH, Tanzania Social Action Fund, Abt Associates and FHI360 have been collaborating to mitigate this epidemic.

Success stories are being observed throughout the country in the fight to eradicate the epidemic. For example, the notable decrease in HIV incidence rates from 1.34 percent in 1992 to as low as 0.007 among 15 – 24 year-olds and 0.25 percent among adults aged 15 – 64 years in 2017. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has declined from 7 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2018.

Recent data published by UNAIDS in June 2023 shows that Tanzania, with four other African countries, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Eswatini are, achieving the three 95 that is, 95 percent of people living with the disease are aware of their HIV status, 95 percent of the diagnosed are receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95 percent of those on ART are virally suppressed.

The data from UNAIDS and other sources indicate youths as the primary victims of the HIV epidemic in Tanzania. Out of 27000 related deaths, 18,348 were between the age of 15 – 49, and among 1.7 million people living with HIV, 58,000 new HIV infections were of the same age group. Fifty percent of all new conditions are between 15 – 29 years of age group. Youths account for more than 90 percent of the critically vulnerable populations at substantial risk of transmitting and acquiring new infections.

It is imperative that the government and all stakeholders continue taking intentional initiatives to reduce predicting risk factors for HIV infections to protect youths in our country.

The government and its international and local partners have taken commendable measures to mitigate this epidemic. Some of the prevention and treatment interventions that are in place to reduce this epidemic include free HIV testing services with self-test oral kits, serological rapid diagnostic testing kits in line with Tanzania national guidelines readily available in CTC centers across Tanzania, and adaptation of same-date or immediate initiation to antiretroviral therapy, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to key vulnerable population at high risk of acquiring HIV, condom promotion and free provision in CTC centers across the country, free Voluntary male medical circumcision and social behavior change and structure change.

Quality HIV care and treatment services are continuously being improved by providing regular training and facilitation to staff serving in these CTC centers across Tanzania. Also, the government and implementing partners are strengthening service delivery systems among local government and civil society while providing critical health and social services to HIV-affected households, as elaborated clearly by USAID Tanzania HIV Fact Sheet September 2020.

Youths and HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Tanzania

Heterosexual sex remains the most typical factor for new HIV infection attributing up to 80 percent route for HIV transmission in Tanzania. Youths enter into sexual relationships without knowing each other’s HIV status, and some even cohabitate and get married without knowing the HIV status of their spouse. This is very common among most youths in Tanzania. It is hazardous behavior that can lead to HIV transmission easily. Persons unaware of their HIV status and, unfortunately, if they are HIV positive if they are to have sexual intercourse with other people, can easily transmit the disease as their viral load is not virally suppressed.

It is, therefore, a must for youths to know their HIV status and that of the people they are about to get into sexual relationships. Many women especially are diagnosed HIV positive when they report for first booking in hospitals while starting their maternal clinic. This is very unfortunate and can be avoided had the couples taken the initiative to know each other’s HIV status. Religious leaders in churches and mosques must enforce regulations where teams cannot get married without proof of HIV status.

Youths take charge of their lives and health by abstaining from risky behaviors, including drugs and drug abuse, addiction to alcohol, prostitution, unsafe sex, and other forms of fornication. Stakeholders must also initiate programs that create employment opportunities and social and behavioral change and structure interventions for these youths to protect them from risky behaviors, including prostitution and drug abuse.

A Call for Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Epidemic Education and Resources

All stakeholders must join hands to protect this group of people as this is the most vulnerable group. Adults take advantage of this group’s challenges of unemployment and poverty to exchange money with this group for sex.

More must be done in schools and colleges to promote reproductive health, safe sex education, and HIV testing services. It should be easier for youths to test and know their HIV status as testing kits can be distributed periodically or readily available in schools and other public places like bus stops, markets, and public and private offices, as the testing kits have instructions on how to self-test.

Same with condoms, they should be readily available and accessible as implementing partners provide free condoms. They can be distributed and placed in all public places and accessible anytime. This may help to mitigate the impact and spread of this epidemic.

The commendable and notable success stories in the fight to eradicate the disease by 2030 are facing some challenges, including critical gaps in the number, quality, and distribution of healthcare workers, especially in rural areas, meager domestic financing, not enough greater harmony between health information systems, improved commodity security for facilities and an enabling environment for HIV services to be accessed free from stigma and discrimination, HIV-AIDS TANZANIA Factsheet.

The government and its local and international partners must continue to provide sizable financing and quality HIV care and treatment services, strengthening service delivery systems and providing critical health and social services to HIV-affected households. Youths especially need to take charge of their lives as the changes to risky behaviors predicting factors for new HIV infection begin with them. They should be helped by all stakeholders so as their social behavior change as the country strive to mitigate this epidemic.

The signs are brighter as we continue to fight HIV/AIDS, and strengthening this fight by all involved parties is crucial, especially to eradicate this epidemic.

hold a bachelor's degree in Public Relations and Marketing from St. Augustine University of Tanzania. I am currently working as a Hub Data Officer for Benjamin Mkapa Foundation at Usangi District hospital. I am an experienced Marketing and Sales professional where I have worked in this field for over 5 years. I have now worked in a PEPFAR HIV funded programme for over 3 years where I have been receiving various training and facilitation on the basics of comprehensive HIV care. I am passionate about traveling and creative writing and I am determined to learn more about writing to express my ideas that will inspire positive and constructive discussion in Tanzania for the welfare of the Tanzanian society.

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