In-depth: Countdown to Universal Access

TANZANIA: Low uptake of ARVs hampering universal access

Photo: John Nyaga/IRIN
Pregnant women are not making adequate use of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services
DAR ES SALAAM, 27 October 2009 (PlusNews) - HIV-positive Tanzanians are not taking advantage of the availability of life-prolonging anti-retroviral medication in hospitals around the country, says a senior government official.

"We have an adequate supply of ARVs in our hospitals and other outlets, but there are few people who are turning out for this important service," David Mwakyusa, Health and Social Welfare Minister, told IRIN/PlusNews.

An estimated 250,000 people are taking ARVs, while another 190,000 who need them are not accessing them. In 2008, the government re-affirmed its commitment to achieving universal access to ARVs by 2010.

"We are working hard to encourage people to check their HIV status and those infected to go for further medical attention and when necessary start taking ARVs, which are in good supply," the minister said.

Mwakyusa also bemoaned the fact that few pregnant women made use of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services available at antenatal clinics; just 33 percent of pregnant women who require PMTCT services access them, according to UNAIDS.

Research has found that although HIV-positive Tanzanians welcome anti-retroviral therapy, transportation, supplementary food costs, ill-treatment at hospitals and difficulties in sustaining long-term treatment all act as barriers to accessing treatment. Fear of stigma as well as HIV denial, which often led patients to seek treatment from alternative healers, and inadequate numbers of trained medical personnel, also prevented patients from accessing healthcare.

"Multi-faceted interventions are required to promote regular HIV clinic attendance, including ongoing education, counselling and support in both clinic and community settings," authors of a recent study by the Centre for Population Studies and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recommended.

Mwakyusa noted that Tanzania was planning to cut the cost of ARVs by producing them locally. He said it was important for the country to become more self-sufficient, especially in the face of the global economic downturn.

"We are praying that despite the global financial crisis, donors will continue supporting our efforts," he said. "The financial crisis is clearly affecting the capacity of donors to fund international programmes on AIDS."


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