Govt to roll out $3m HIV survey

Dr Owen Mugurungi

Dr Owen Mugurungi

Paidamoyo Chipunza and Walter Nyamukondiwa—
Government will next month embark on a $3 million door-to-door national HIV and Aids survey, offering HIV testing and counselling services, director of the Aids and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Owen Mugurungi has said. The exercise, to be launched in Harare today, seeks to ascertain the burden of HIV and Aids in the country and assess the impact of interventions rolled out so far.

Key focus issues include prevalence of HIV in adults and children, prevalence of anti-retroviral drug resistance, prevalence of syphilis among adults and coverage of ARVs in the country. Addressing journalists at a media sensitisation meeting held prior to the Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA) launch in Harare yesterday, Dr Mugurungi said the study, the first of its kind in Africa, was expected to start next month targeting a sample size of 15 000 households randomly selected from all the country’s 10 provinces.

Dr Mugurungi said the findings of the survey — expected to run for six months — would be used to inform social services planning in line with Zim-Asset. “It gives us an opportunity to take stock as Government on what we have managed to achieve as a country in the last 10 years or so after HIV was declared an emergency in 2002.

“This survey is the first of its kind in Africa and we will be a global example of HIV impact assessment and the experience will give direction and pointers to other countries,” he said. Dr Mugurungi said apart from measuring the burden of HIV in the country, people would also receive HIV testing and counselling, CD4 Count, syphilis testing and referrals to health institutions for further management. Outlining the ZIMPHIA survey, ICAP at Columbia University representative Dr Godfrey Masuku said the survey should give a better understanding of the HIV epidemic countrywide.

“ZIMPHIA is a cross-sectional survey that will see 15 000 homesteads being approached and asked to provide information that will help Government better understand the impact of its intervention strategies,” said Dr Masuku. “The survey will give us a better understanding of the HIV epidemic in all parts of the country. It will give us answers on whether the interventions are working or not.”

Unlike other surveys such as the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey and national estimates, ZIMPHIA is specific to HIV and syphilis and involves a larger sample size. The survey will be conducted by the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in collaboration with ZIMSTAT, National Aids Council, ICAP at Columbia University, the US Centre for Disease Control, PEPFAR, among others.

ZIMPHIA is the first population- based survey in Africa and the country will provide a template on which 19 other countries will follow. According to the Government, enumerators carrying Government identifications will randomly visit selected homes collecting demographic, clinical (including blood samples from the arm, finger or heel to perform HIV testing), and behavioural information.

Information will be collected via face-to-face interviews, computer-assisted interviews and questionnaires. Trained nurses will provide HIV counselling and testing and rapid results for HIV and syphilis will be returned to participants on the same day. Those tested for HIV will be referred for care.

At least $3 million has been set aside for the ground breaking survey, with substantial financial support from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). According to other studies such as the ZDHS (done after every five years) and yearly national estimates, the HIV burden in Zimbabwe continues to decrease with latest statistics showing decreases in national HIV incidence rate, new infections and the number of children getting infected through mother to child transmission.

The country’s prevalence rate, however, remained static at 15 percent while the number of people on anti-retroviral treatment is pegged at 63,4 percent for adults and 55 percent for children.