Eritrea’s best practices in HIV / AIDS response resulted the prevalence rate to drop below 1% – one of the best on the continent.
By Fikrejesus Amahazion (PhD),
Since the start of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, an estimated 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.
According to UNAIDS, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Specifically, of the over 35 million people living with HIV, over 25 million are living inSub-Saharan Africa, and the region accounts for approximately 75% of all the people dying from AIDS-related causes.
However, amidst these stark figures and though HIV/AIDS remains one of Africa’s most significant public health challenges, significant progress has been made. For example, prior to 2001, HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa was nearly nonexistent; yet, now some 86% of people living with HIV who know their status inSub-Saharan Africa are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), and nearly 76% of them have achieved viral suppression.
While many countries have shown significant progress in combating HIV/AIDS, Eritrea’s strong record battling HIV/AIDS stands out positively. For example, its HIV/AIDS-related figures – prevalence in the country is approximately 0.59% among 15 – 45 year olds – are distinguished as amongst the best, both within the region and comparatively across the continent.
Eritrea’s success in combating HIV/AIDS is founded upon a multi-sectoral approach that also involves the targeting of harmful societal behaviours and traditions. Specifically, the country has:
- targeted traditional and patriarchal stereotypes and practices, including banning child marriage and FGM/FGC;
- focused on improving gender equality and decreasing the burden of poverty borne by women; and
- sought to reduce stigma and discrimination.
Furthermore, community awareness programs have been vigorous and effective in the social marketing of condoms, communicating safe practices, offering educational programs, and providing youth or peer counselling.
The country’s commitment to the rights and health of citizens living with HIV/AIDS is also illustrated by considering the high levels of support for antiretroviral therapy (ART), which helps avert HIV/AIDS related deaths and is a critical factor in driving down the rate of new infections.
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Additionally, Eritrea has established numerous Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) centers throughout the country. VCTs offer rapid testing and pre- and post-test counselling, are staffed with trained counsellors, and operate according to national guidelines, while PMTCT centers chiefly focus on pregnant women, offering testing services and supporting those found HIV-positive in preventing the transmission of HIV to their children.
Considering Eritrea’s figures and progress in the context of its various socio-economic, development, and regional challenges or in comparison to other countries throughout Africa, the country’s success becomes particularly striking.
Potentially serving as a model for Africa, Eritrea’s HIV/AIDS success also illustrates what can be achieved with a self-reliant approach, a capacity to adapt, effective coordination, and cost-effective projects. At the same time, however, the potentially devastating consequences posed by HIV/AIDS – in terms of human rights, severe human toll, and national developmental disaster – mean that the country has little room for complacency.
Increasingly, HIV/AIDS has been recognized as a fundamental human rights issue, with HIV/AIDS and human rights being inextricably linked. A lack of respect for human rights drives the HIV/AIDS epidemic and increases its impact, while at the same time, HIV/AIDS undermines progress in the realisation of human rights.
Moreover, the HIV/AIDS epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the development and socio-economic growth of nations. For example, HIV/AIDS increases demand for personnel and financial resources in the health and social sectors, and can have a drastic effect on rural development, including declining food production.
Additionally, many of the countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and various other serious problems. Recent UNAIDS estimates indicate that US$ 26.2 billion will be required for the AIDS response in 2020, with US$ 23.9 billion required in 2030.
Ultimately, Eritrea must continue to augment its existing programmes and further promote effective initiatives and interventions in order to control and reduce the harmful impact of HIV/AIDS, while also expanding attention to HIV in national planning, gender equality, and socio-economic efforts.