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Last updateMar, 27 Jan 2015 6pm

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HIV/AIDS: Correct ARV drugs use reduces HIV transmission, say experts

Health - Good adherence of Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and using them for the correct treatment will significantly reduce transmitting HIV/AIDS to others, but will not stop the transmission. Demystifying the perception inhibited by many people in society, speaking exclusively to the 'Sunday News,' the Muhimbili University for Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) Medical Specialist Lecturer, Dr Tumaini Nagu said that the usage of ARVs was for life.


"Misconception within any society comes about because people are not informed. What people need to know is that with some people, their use of these drugs have helped reduce the virus to such an extent that it reaches below detection level and hard to quantify," she explained.

Dr Nagu admitted that the introduction of these drugs had immensely helped the majority of Tanzanians and that they were a relief to medical practitioners, because people were not dying as much as they did before the drugs were available.

She said that when the virus is at below detectable level doesn't mean that it is at zero, but that the drugs have brought them down reducing the chances of infecting others because the viral load has decreased.

"As you may be aware, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued recommendations that allow the doctor to consider starting ARVs on a couple where one of them is infected with the disease. The guidelines are yet to be released and we in the country are exploring on the modalities," she said.

The 2012 Guidance on couples HIV testing and counselling - including antiretroviral therapy for treatment and prevention in serodiscordant couples, for couples where only one partner is HIV positive, the guidelines recommend offering antiretroviral therapy to the HIV positive partner, regardless of his/her own immune status (CD4 count), to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission to the HIV negative partner.

According to the WHO website, only 40 per cent of people with HIV globally know their HIV status. Up to 50 per cent of HIV-positive people in on-going relationships have HIV-negative partners (i.e. they are in serodiscordant relationships).

Of those HIV-positive individuals who know their status, many have not disclosed their HIV status to their partners, nor do they know their partners' HIV status. Consequently, a significant number of new infections occur within serodiscordant couples.

Dr Nagu said that it was her conviction that once the government has explored on the modalities and come out with one, the move would go a long way, further improving the quality of life of people.

Another guideline released in June 2013 that was issued by the WHO was on HIV and AIDS guidelines on treatment for PMTCT (preventing mother-to-child transmission) and on HIV and breastfeeding.

In line with this, the First Lady Mama Salma Kikwete on Wednesday launched the new guidelines on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) Option B+ in Dar es Salaam, urging women to use the opportunity to test and access the services.

Mama Kikwete went on to urge men to accompany their spouses for testing, to work alongside government's efforts to ensure zero HIV/Aids infection and transmission from mother to child.

"PMTCT Option B+ is aimed at ensuring zero transmission of HIV virus from mother to child and this will not be achieved if both parents will not go for testing.

With PMTCT Option B+ a pregnant mother living with HIV virus will be put on the treatment immediately," she explained. The traditional approach to PMTCT required a specific CD4 cell count before initiating antiretroviral prophylaxis.

Tanzania is among 20 countries with high rate of HIV prevalence, where 160,000 children under 15 years are living with the virus. Of these, 80 per cent (128,000) got their virus from their mothers, while 32,000 were from other sources.

A medical microbiologist, Mr John Changalucha concurred saying that effective ARVs usage stop the virus in infected individuals from multiplying, thus the number of virus particles decreases overtime during treatment. "That is why people on ARV treatment and if attending in larger hospitals like the national hospital, can be assessed for viral load. What this means is that if the individual is adhering well to the treatment, it will allow the body to build its immunity because the CD4 cells will not be killed rapidly," he noted. He said that it was for reason that people on ARV treatment are regularly monitored for their CD4 count and that most facilities treating HIV patients are done cheaply due to the sophistication of its test.

By Masembe Tambwe

Tanzania Daily News/27/01/2014