Reviewing the HIV/AIDS situation in the two sub-regions, Dr Samba said that by the end of 2002, 18.6 million people were estimated to be HIV positive, with 2.7 in urgent need of ART.
Dr Samba's stated that although experience had shown that prevention interventions implemented to scale could be effective in controlling the disease, "the staggering figures" of PLWHA in East and Southern Africa called for countries to place an equally important emphasis on care and treatment.
His address was delivered by the Acting Director of the Division of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Elizabeth Mason.
Dr Samba added that increased access and utilization of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) services must be urgently addressed because people who know their sero-status are more likely to embark on positive behaviour change, thus affecting the rate of infection.
He noted that the majority of patients who received ART did so from NGOs and private sector projects, and called for increased collaboration between governments, multilateral and bilateral partners, the private sector, networks of PLWHA and civil society.
The Regional Director expressed concern over state of health facilities saying: "Most of our health facilities and inadequately staffed, because of high morbidity and attrition rate among health workers. This is a trend that that has to be halted."
He then pledged the commitment of WHO to working with countries to build capacity, establish or strengthen standards of practice to ensure quality care and treatment, ensure advocacy with other partners to increase support to in scaling up care and treatment to PLWHA.
Opening the meeting on behalf of the Zimbabwe's Minister of Health and Child Welfare, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr Elizabeth Xaba, said that falling prices of antiretroviral medicines and increased financial support from international organizations and partners were positive moves to increase access to care and treatment for PLHA.
Dr Xaba hoped that the Permanent Secretaries and other senior health ministry officials attending the meeting would endorse and facilitate the implementation of the recommendations of the workshop which preceded the meeting.
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Samuel T. Ajibola
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