ERITREA - keeping HIV/AIDS at bay

ERITREA - keeping HIV/AIDS at bay

Eritrea has succeeded in reaching one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lowest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.

The recently launched UNAIDS Gap Report shows that Eritrea is amongst a handful of countries in the region to have HIV prevalence rates below the 1% mark in 2013. The estimate of HIV prevalence amongst adults is 0.6%, down from 1.3% in 2005. The average for Sub-Saharan countries was 4.7% in 2013.

– Eritrea is showing great commitment and dedication to confront HIV/AIDS. Activities to prevent the spread, and to support those living affected by the virus need continued support, comments the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Christine N. Umutoni.

The UN has been supporting the Eritrean national efforts in combatting and responding to the epidemic.  The UN assists the national response in areas such as capacity building, empowering leadership, mobilisation of public, private and civil society, strategic information and facilitating access to technical and financial resources.

Responding to the epidemic

Thanks to an expansion in the coverage of HIV treatment, the Sub-Saharan region has seen a decline in the number of AIDS-related deaths of 39% since 2005. Eritrea, which launched their first national HIV/AIDS response in 1992, saw a decline of 67%. Other countries with major declines since 2005 are Rwanda (76%), Ethiopia (63%) and Kenya (60%). The UNAIDS Gap report attributes the success directly to the rapid increase in the number of people on antiretroviral therapy.

Eritrea adopted their first comprehensive and multi-sectoral strategic plan on HIV/AIDS in 1997. Prevention of infection has remained the backbone of the Eritrean response against the epidemic, and the country has focused on:

  • Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission

  • Condom Promotion and Distribution

  • Counselling and Testing for HIV

  • Treatment and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections

  • Transfusion of Safe blood

  • Knowledge and Awareness about HIV/AIDS

Additionally, Eritrea has specifically targeted key populations who are at high risk of infection. Female sex workers and long truck drivers were identified as some of the high-risk groups, and through peer-based education, these have been targeted to improve knowledge and change sexual behaviours. A marked reduction in HIV prevalence in sex workers was seen from 22% in 2002 to 5.8% in 2011, according to the Eritrean Population and Health Survey.

Towards zero

However, even with the good progress that has been made, the Eritrean authorities are acknowledging that there is still work to be done.

Although 59% of adults with HIV in Eritrea now have access to anti-retroviral therapy, less than half (38%)  of pregnant women living with HIV receive antiretroviral medicines for preventing mother-to-child-transmission, and only 21 % of children receive HIV treatment.

The country’s goal, as outlined in the fourth national plan on HIV/AIDS, is to move towards ‘zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths’. The major pillars for moving towards this goal is scaling up access to HIV prevention services; scaling up access to treatment, care and support services; strengthening health systems and strengthening community systems. In addition to fighting the epidemics, improving the quality of life of people affected, is an objective.

Sources: UNAIDS Gap Report 2014
The Fourth Eritrea National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS/STI, 2012-2016

UNAIDS in Eritrea

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is an innovative partnership of ten United Nations Organizations that leads and inspires the world in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. UNAIDS Visions is Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination & Zero AIDS-related deaths.

UNAIDS in Eritrea supports the Ministry of Health in strengthening HIV and AIDS planning, monitoring and evaluation and in coordination mechanisms to be able to respond to HIV based on evidence.

UNAIDS also collaborates to strengthen the capacity of the association of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and other relevant civil society organisations like the National Union of Eritrean Workers to make significant contributions to the response to HIV and AIDS.

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