A leading official of the US global effort against HIV / AIDS, Jimmy Kolker, has praised the progress made in the fight against the disease in Africa. Mr. Kolker is a former US Ambassador to Uganda, and the assistant coordinator and director of diplomatic outreach for the Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator. He made his comments at the 14th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Abuja, Nigeria.
The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a $15 billion dollar global initiative to fight HIV / AIDS. Ambassador Kolker says under the president’s two-year-old initiative, more than 400,000 infected people are being treated with anti-retroviral drugs – up from under 50 thousand when the program began. In addition, he also says hundreds of sites are now available across Africa for testing pregnant women for the disease and supplying them with the anti-viral drug Nevirapine, which helps reduce the chances of transmitting HIV from an infected mother to her unborn child. In addition, he says routine testing is being adopted in many countries:
“In Uganda, it now is routine that people admitted to hospitals and the women coming for pre-natal care are given the test unless they opt out… They would be tested just as they would have their blood pressure taken or their temperature taken as part of a normal medical examine. So routine testing has become the norm in those countries…. We are working closely with government and the World Health Organization to see that routine testing, or opt-out testing, becomes the normal practice throughout Africa.”
Ambassador Kolker also says HIV testing has led to the improved treatments of other illness that can damage the health of those who test positive for the virus: “The testing of mothers is a gateway to other care that people can get,” said the US official. “If women are found to be HIV positive, even if they do not require anti-retroviral drugs, there are other things such as clean water, antibiotics to reduce the rates of malaria, diarrhea. All these things are important in keeping HIV-positive people and their families alive. So we’ve been able to use HIV testing as a gateway, an entry point, to other needs those people have and to be able to help meet those needs in supporting national strategies of the countries where we work. “