Lesotho Leads the Way to HIV Treatment for All with Early Launch of “Test and Treat” Guidelines
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Maseru, Lesotho—April 14, 2016—The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) joined the Lesotho Ministry of Health (MOH) and other partners today to commemorate the launch of “Test and Treat” guidelines for HIV throughout the country, making Lesotho the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to implement the new guidelines, first issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015.
The new guidelines remove all limitations on eligibility for antiretroviral therapy (ART) and recommend that anyone infected with HIV should begin ART as soon after diagnosis as possible. The launch event today, held at the Senkatana Center for Excellence in Maseru, marked the official adoption and beginning of the roll-out of these guidelines with the goal of having “Test and Treat” implemented in every health facility in the country by June 1, 2016.
“The decision to prioritize implementing ’Test and Treat’ as soon as possible will undoubtedly save countless lives in Lesotho,” said Appolinaire Tiam, EGPAF-Lesotho Country Director. “In order to give children and their families the best chance for survival, it is critical that all people living with HIV are started on treatment as early as possible and that treatment is maintained throughout their life. ‘Test and Treat’ will make it easier to do just that.”
The speed and ambitious nature of the roll-out of “Test and Treat” guidelines nationwide reflect the urgency of the HIV epidemic facing Lesotho. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence in the world, with nearly 25 percent of the population living with HIV. Low treatment coverage remains a persistent problem, with only 45 percent of adults and 30 percent of children currently accessing ART.
Previous guidelines had restricted access to ART to those with weakened immune systems, indicated by a CD4 count below 500 or WHO clinical stage 3 or 4, and for specific populations including pregnant women and children. By removing any requirement eligibility criteria for treatment, the new guidelines will expand access to ART to every person living with HIV.
The “Test and Treat” guidelines, also known as “Treatment for All” or “Test and Start”, are based on new research released in 2015 which showed that starting HIV treatment early played a crucial role in controlling the epidemic as it helps improve the health of people living with HIV and also greatly reduces the risk of infecting others. They also align and build upon previous WHO recommendations (known as Option B+) for pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV and for children under five who are living with HIV to start treatment as early as possible and to stay on treatment for life.
EGPAF will continue to work closely and diligently with the Lesotho MOH and other partners in country to support the strategic roll-out of “Test and Treat” guidelines throughout Lesotho.
“EGPAF’s expertise in rapidly and effectively implementing new treatment guidelines will play a critical role in working with Lesotho and other countries and partners to transition to a ‘Test and Treat’ approach,” said Charles Lyons, EGPAF president and CEO. “With today’s launch, Lesotho is sending a clear message to the rest of the world: there is no time to waste. Work to implement these new lifesaving guidelines must start now.”
About the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF):
EGPAF is the global leader in the fight against pediatric HIV/ AIDS and has reached nearly 23 million women with services to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies. It currently supports more than 6,000 health facilities and works in 14 countries to implement prevention, care, and treatment services; to further advance innovative research; and to execute global advocacy activities that bring dramatic change to the lives of millions of women, children, and families worldwide. For more information, visit www.pedaids.org.