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‘I Can Still Enjoy a Dose of Good Health After All’

LOVEJOY Tengenenge (25) watched in disbelief as the woman in front of the queue received a nod to collect her monthly supply of drugs in the next room at Murehwa Hospital Her fears immediately

disappeared after she realised that she could still get her drugs — and in full — following weeks of uncertainty after the Expanded Support Programmes, that had been bankrolling their anti-retroviral therapy scheme came to an end.

“I can still enjoy a dose of good health after all,” she whispered, as she waited for the nurse to call out her name, and join a queue that was already meandering towards the Opportunistic Infection Clinic.

Lovejoy is one of the 80 000 people living with HIV and Aids who were in January this year absorbed by the National Aids Council anti-retroviral programme after the Expanded Support Programme (ESP) that had been bankrolling ART in Zimbabwe’s 16 districts came to an end in December last year.

The news was met with consternation by thousands of people who were not sure if they will be able to continue with the anti-retroviral therapy at a time when there were thousands of people living positively with HIV, who had not commenced ART, due to inadequate resources.

Like her peers, Lovejoy had been on medication for three years after she tested positive for HIV during a visit to the antenatal clinic, when she was still six months’ pregnant.

She was immediately put on anti-retroviral therapy, after doctors noticed that her health had deteriorated.

Although she lost her child, soon after birth, she continued taking her medication until the abrupt announcement that the ESP initiative had come to an end.

In an interview last week, National Aids Council executive director Dr Tapiwa Magure confirmed that the 80 000 people who had been on the Expanded Support Programme had since been absorbed into the existing national treatment programme.

“We assured those on ESP programme that although the initiative was coming to an end, we will still be able to come up with a fall back solution.

“We have since done that and I am happy to say that all the people who were on ESP have since been absorbed and are now part of the more than 300 000 people who are on ARV treatment on the Government programme,” said Dr Magure.

He, however, expressed his gratitude over the assistance that several partners rendered to the Government through the ESP, which came to an end after five years in existence.

“A lot was covered during the ESP, and we are extremely grateful,” he said.

ESP was one of the key programmes in the scaling up of the response to HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, complementing national efforts, the Global Fund and the United States government support.

ESP, which received funding from, the DFID, Irish Aids, Sida, Cida and Norway, started in 2007 with a budget of US$80 million, which lasted for five years.

Initially, the ESP initiative was scheduled to run for three years, but had to be extended for another two years, after the donors realised the need for more resources to complement Zimbabwe’s efforts through the National Aids Council, Global Fund and other supporting agencies.

The programme has been running in 16 districts, where it was instrumental in the treatment and care of people who are living with HIV and Aids.

Some of the districts, which benefited from ESP initiative include Marondera, Hwange, Nkayi, Shurugwi, Matobo, Mbire, Guruve, Nyanga and Mutasa.

Hwedza, Chikomba, Chirumhanzu, Gutu, Bikita and Mberengwaa also benefited.

One of the objectives of ESP was to reduce transmission and impact of HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, through treatment, medication and counselling for people living with HIV and Aids. About 70 percent of the US$80 million set aside was primarily used for treatment and care, while 22 percent went towards prevention and the rest was for monitoring and evaluation. Apart from putting 80 000 people on ART — 26 000 of them nationally — ESP was also instrumental in helping retain the health workforce from about 30 percent in 2008 to about 70 percent in 2010 in these communities.

The feat was achieved through its US$4,5 million support grant mainly meant for the retention scheme for health workers. A survey carried out by NAC in 2009 revealed that the programme also contributed to the decline in HIV prevalence in the country to 13,6 percent.

Those in the health sector can attest that the ESP averted new HIV infections in the districts that it was operating in, through improved health seeking behaviour of communities.

If anything, the existence of ESP was a timely boost for the country, which needed other players to further augment resources meant for people living with HIV and Aids.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s HIV and Aids programmes are being funded by the Global Fund that contributes 47 percent, the National Aids Trust Fund (14 percent), while ESP had been chipping in with 14 percent of the funding required.

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