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MSF in Zambia, 2011
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The number of people being treated for HIV in Zambia has increased and, according to the latest UNAIDS report, between 70 and 80 percent of those who need antiretroviral treatment are receiving it. However, prevention is still an issue, especially outside the big cities.
A key component of the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) programme in Luwingu district, in the isolated and hard-to-reach Northern province, is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the MSF team offers counseling and testing to pregnant women, and close to 4,800 were tested in 2011. Women diagnosed with HIV are then referred to the district hospital in Luwingu for treatment, where MSF supports the PMTCT program.
Simply offering counseling and testing is not enough, however. The stigmatzsation of HIV-positive people is still strong in rural areas, and there is a reluctance to use testing services. In response, an MSF team travels regularly to villages in the district to raise awareness and increase understanding of HIV and its treatment. The objectives are to encourage people to come for testing, so that if they do have HIV, they can seek treatment, and pregnant women can prevent their children being born with the virus.
In seven rural health centers in Luwingu, MSF also supports general maternal health services. Staff offer family planning, ante- and postnatal care, and assist births. In 2011, they assisted an average of 110 births and held some 700 antenatal consultations every month. As part of the antenatal care package, the team test women for sexually transmitted infections, anemia, HIV and malaria. If infected when pregnant, malaria can put a woman’s life at risk, and increases the chances of premature delivery, low birth weight or stillbirth.
MSF also provided training to Ministry of Health staff and donated medical supplies and vaccines.
Measles vaccination campaign
At the beginning of May, MSF launched an emergency response to a measles epidemic that had affected thousands of Zambian children, especially in the north of the country. Teams worked with the health authorities to carry out a vaccination campaign targeting some 558,800 children aged between six months and 15 years in Luapula and Northern provinces. MSF also treated people suffering complications such as pneumonia, dehydration and malnutrition.
Cholera preparedness and prevention
MSF carried out a cholera prevention program in Lusaka over the rainy season, when incidence is highest. This involved chlorinating water at distribution points, delivering soap door to door, and organizing activities to inform people about how to help prevent transmission, how to spot signs of the disease and where to seek help. Following this model, international agencies and non-governmental organizations have carried out further prevention activities in the country.
At the end of 2011, MSF had 87 staff in Zambia. MSF has been working in the country since 1999.